Article Written by Stephen Bell – Marketing/Development @coffeescreative
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At Coffeeshop Creative we are not only passionate about designing and developing a unique web presence for our clients, but also sharing their stories. We are super excited to share another story in our series of blogs – Grabbing Coffee. Today’s feature – director, producer & writer Aria Umezawa. As we are designing the upcoming launch of her custom website, we recently caught up with Aria at Toronto coffee spot, Jet Fuel Coffee. So grab your favourite cup of java and get to know a little about this talented and exciting director on the operatic scene!
Tell us a little about yourself?
Not much to tell, really! I was born and raised in Toronto to a Japanese father, and a Canadian mother. I have two amazing and hilarious brothers, and the best friends in the world (an objective truth, I’m not being biased). My husband is a lawyer from Newfoundland, who inspires me every day to work harder, make it better, do it faster, and make myself stronger. I love comic books, llamas, snails, coffee, and hot pot. My celebrity doppelganger is Lee Tae-min from the Korean Boy Band, SHINee (circa their “Lucifer” music video). I take my work very seriously, I try not to take myself very seriously.
Aria Umezawa directing in rehearsal at the Merola Grand Finale – San Fransisco/USA
What inspires you with operatic direction, and the ability to tell a story in a unique or different way?
In my mind, when opera is at its best, it represents the pinnacle of human achievement. It’s creative, it’s intellectual, it’s a physical feat, it’s about the sum of its parts being greater than the individual. There is so much to love about opera, and there’s so much to explore and dive into. It’s one of many mediums that tries to connect us to our humanity, and it does so by showing us that there are just some situations where words alone cannot suffice.
Beyond that, I guess I’m the type of person who likes to colour with all the crayons in the box, and opera is an art form that let’s me do that.
Dan Gahr (left), Jennifer Szeto, Aria Umezawa and Anthony Reed mix opera and EDM at dance party- San Francisco Chronicle
You are now completing an Adler Fellowship through the San Francisco Opera Center, tell us a little bit about your experience in this prestigious company?
It’s difficult for me to describe how life-changing my time with San Francisco Opera has been. Beyond the practical experience, and the sheer number of opportunities they have afforded me over the past year-and-a-bit, the chance to observe and interact with so many astonishingly talented people has been humbling. Everyone I’ve come across, in every department, is highly passionate about what they do, and the people I’ve had the chance to interact with have been incredibly generous with their time, and open to sharing their experiences with me.
It’s been like letting a kid loose in a candy store: A question about how a large company would report legacy donations in their Annual Financial Report pops into my mind? I poke my head into the Controller’s office. I need any opera score under the sun? The librarian has it ready for me in seconds. Someone in the Education Department pointed out that when I stand and talk in front of people, I cross my legs, and that I’m subconsciously communicating discomfort (so true – I have serious stage fright). Sheri Greenawald who runs the Opera Center gave me pointers on how to speak in rehearsals for long periods of time without tiring my voice. The Italian diction coach here trained as a dramaturg in Italy and we’ve spent countless hours discussing classic literature, and how it influences opera. Early on, Elkhanah Pulitzer looked at me during a particularly stressful tech and said, “I feel like we’re on the same page about what needs to get done. I want to empower you to trust your instincts.” And my fellow Adlers have all shared their experiences as singers and coaches with me, and are always there to bounce ideas and thoughts off of.
Transformative has become somewhat of a buzzword, but I truly can’t think of a better word to describe this Fellowship.
San Francisco Opera Lab Pop- Up Oakland Edition!
Outside of all things directing, tell us a little about your love of writing and producing?
My dad is an author, and instilled a love of storytelling in me. When we were younger, he used to encourage my brothers and me to tell stories about our school day in three phrases or less. He taught me that dramatic elements need to be earned – that if someone was going to commit suicide (an opera trope), it couldn’t come out of the blue, it had to be set up in a thoughtful way. I guess you could say he taught me the value of a story told simply but effectively. Opera can be such a grand art form – I relish the opportunity to bring some simplicity to it, and I’ve found that writing about opera is one of the ways I can do that. That was one of the motivators behind the webseries “Opera Cheats” – to show that the stories people think are incredibly complex can actually be relayed quite simply.
When it comes to producing, that was something I discovered through the company I co-founded, Opera 5. There’s a lot of gratification in helping people’s creative ideas come to life – whether their singing a role in a show, or designing a production, or directing their first opera. Some of my proudest moments have been seeing my colleagues succeed in their efforts. It’s worth all the extra work to experience that payoff.
Aria Umezawa – Director, Writer & Producer
And… most importantly, favourite type or style of coffee?
Right now, I am absolutely addicted to Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco. I get a latte from there almost every morning, and when I don’t, the day just seems a little less bright. Their espresso is such an interesting roast – super flavourful, and unique. Also, a feature I didn’t appreciate before moving to California, is that they don’t over-steam the milk! Back home, you sort of want a hot latte because it can be so cold during the winter, but here they serve their lattes warm. You taste so much more of the coffee itself, and the milk stays sweet from the steaming process, instead of breaking down because of the heat (that last bit is a working theory I have that seems to hold up after a quick Google search).