Charmed

Music major Jennifer Holloway travels the globe performing opera—with her two-year-old in tow

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Jennifer Holloway

Photo by David Cross

When mezzo-soprano Jennifer Holloway first shared the stage with Placido Domingo at the Teatro Real Madrid in April 2008, performing as Irene in Handel’s “Tamerlano,” she was almost too exhausted to even notice. Her first child was just weeks old, and Holloway was on a whirlwind tour of performing in Europe’s top opera houses.

“I was so nonplussed with everything because in my mind I was just kind of a mom,” says Holloway (BMus ’00).

These days, Holloway fully appreciates her rapid rise to fame in the opera world, speaking about it as if she can’t quite believe it’s her own life.

“The houses I’ve sung at—I sang a title role at Glyndebourne!” she says, referring to the famous Glyndebourne Festival Opera that has been held in East Sussex, England, since 1934. “That doesn’t happen! To have Placido recognize me in the street and say, ‘Hi, Jen, how are you doing?’—what is that all about?”

Becoming an opera singer was not Holloway’s dream. As a child in Ohio, she played piano and trumpet, loved musical theater and sang with her sisters in the car with her mother.

At the University of Georgia, she planned to be a music educator, studying euphonium and voice. She enjoyed folk music, the drum corps and faithfully attended her drummer boyfriend (now husband) Duane Holloway’s gigs with local band Squat.

But in 1999, UGA’s School of Music and the Athens Classic Center formed the Athena Grand Opera Company, debuting with Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Holloway landed the role of Third Lady. In 2000, the company produced Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus,” and Holloway was Prince Orlofsky. She remembers that her instructor Gregory Broughton, associate professor of voice, told her, “You could really have a career in this.”

“I was like, hey, people really get paid to do this?” says Holloway. “It just so happened that around the right time in my life, I really started concentrating on it and had good instruction.”

She graduated from UGA at 23, married in August 2001, and was 24 when she and her husband moved to New York so she could attend the Manhattan School of Music. She sought out apprenticeships at opera companies that supported professionals, not wunderkinds, and she found those opportunities at Pittsburgh Opera and Santa Fe Opera.

Soon, she caught the attention of acclaimed soprano Laura Claycomb, who introduced Holloway to her managers and remains a friend. Her second summer at Santa Fe in 2006 was the turning point, when she was unexpectedly offered a main role as Le Prince Charmant in Laurent Pelly’s production of Massenet’s “Cendrillon.”

That was “the big break sort of thing,” said Holloway. “After that summer at Santa Fe, things took off for me.”

To prepare for the part, she went back to her early role of Orlofsky, remembering the tips she received from local actor Steve Elliott-Gower (formerly associate director of UGA’s Honors Program) who appeared with her in “Die Fledermaus.” She has since built a reputation for brilliantly playing men’s parts.

“I’m a very tall woman with broad shoulders and huge hands and huge feet and a square jaw,” she continues.

“I’m easily transformed into a male if you take out my chest and hips. You find something you’re good at, and you just fit into those shoes—or pants, as the case may be.”

She made her European debut in the 2006-2007 season, performing the role of Baroness Aspasia in Rossini’s “La Pietra del Paragone” in Italy and France.

For the 2007-08 season, she traveled Europe extensively with baby Lily in tow, spending just six weeks in each place, sharing child-rearing duties with first her husband and then her mother.

“There’s no staying in one place with this job,” Holloway says, “We’ll take root (soon), either in Georgia or New York. We can’t decide.”

She doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to figure that part out. “I feel charmed lately,” she says.

—Mary Jessica Hammes is a freelance writer living in Athens.