Messiah Lutheran Church is offering another spectacular performance as part of its Arts at Messiah summer concert series.
Internationally renowned soprano Jennifer Zetlan is giving a recital June 1 at the church, accompanied by her husband David Shimoni on piano. The program includes songs that span American folk tradition and contemporary art song, with works by John Jacob Niles, Celius Dougherty, John Harbison, Charles Ives, Ricky Ian Gordon and William Bolcom.
Zetlan’s staggering resume includes performances on Broadway and with the Metropolitan Opera. She has also performed classical works with the New York Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and many more. As a recitalist, Zetlan was selected as an artist for the Marilyn Horne Foundation and, with her husband, gave a solo recital in Alice Tully Hall as the recipient of the Juilliard School’s Vocal Arts Recital Award.
Zetlan’s multi-faceted career has many highlights.
“My Metropolitan Opera debut [in 'War and Peace' in 2007] was one of the most exciting, and despite the fact that it was over 10 years ago, it still remains a favorite,” says Zetlan. “I will never forget how I felt just before my first entrance. Playing Tzeitel in 'Fiddler on the Roof' on Broadway is also a really special memory.
"I know I’m very lucky. Not many working opera singers can say they’ve done both of those things.”
This season Zetlan is reprising her roles in Matt Aucoin’s “Crossing” and Ricky Ian Gordon’s “Morning Star.” She also created the title role in John Musto’s “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt” with On Site Opera at the American Museum of Natural History. It’s an unusual production, as Zetlan performs among the audience while they peruse the exhibits at the museum.
“I had a blast doing 'Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt,'” says Zetlan. “Singing high notes and bouncing around underneath fossils is a truly unique experience. I also especially loved that my daughter could come enjoy the show. The American Museum of Natural History is a place we’ve taken her since she was very young, and now we are reminded of it on each visit to the museum. Doing a performance so close to the audience is also quite a unique experience.”
Although Zetlan has appeared in numerous classic operas such as Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” with the Seattle Opera and “La Bohème” at the Princeton Festival, she is known for her passion for contemporary music. Zetlan has been featured in the premieres of several American operas, including Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys” and “Dark Sisters,” Daron Hagen’s “Amelia” and Louis Karchin’s “Jane Eyre.”
“I think there might be more similarities than differences,” Zetlan says of her preference for contemporary works over classics. “In the end, all opera — actually, all music with words — is about story telling. The thing that changes between genres or eras is the style or vernacular. I love those tried-and-true operas, but have found myself drawn especially to contemporary works, as they are written in a musical vernacular I feel I truly get.”
Zetlan is recording an album with composer Ricky Ian Gordon called “Your Clear Eye” for the Bright Shiny Things label that features some of the songs she will be performing at the Arts at Messiah recital.
“All the music on the album is not yet recorded,” explains Zetlan. "There’s a charming song cycle on Emily Dickinson poems, two monologues from 'Angels in America' and a very special song on a Sylvia Plath poem from which the album gets its title.”
Recognized for her rich, expressive voice and captivating performances, Zetlan brings her theatrical energy from the Broadway and Metropolitan Opera stages to smaller recital venues.
“Some songs really require a full-out 'production,' while others are gentler ways of exploring the depths of an emotion or an experience,” says Zetlan. “I hope it doesn’t sound too overblown to say that I really feel like the singing actor’s job is to illuminate the human condition in all its beauty and grit. I strive for each recital program to touch on exactly that.”