Deborah Domanski is a mezzo-soprano with the Pittsburgh Opera young artists' program, where opera singers with the blush of youth develop their technique as their voices mature. Domanski, 28, a California native who lives on the North Side, holds a master's degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music and has studied at Juilliard Opera Center. She's finishing her first season at the opera, and will return in September to complete the two-year program.
Why's it harder to be a 20-year-old protégé in the opera than in a symphony?
The voice matures at different rates. Pop singers can sing pop at any point in their life because the sound doesn't need to be a mature sound. But the voice -- to get that mature, operatic-type sound, it takes until 30 or 35 sometimes.
Is being by all other measures grown up but waiting for your voice to mature frustrating?
It can be very frustrating. You know you don't have the sound that you're going to have when you're 35. But you know that it's not healthy for you to [push your voice to] sound like that yet. To sing with a healthy voice right now, it's not a sound that you particularly want.
Do opera singers lead a particularly healthy lifestyle?
Some singers can smoke and drink to their hearts' delight, and it doesn't affect them as much as someone with a more delicate set of cords. Some people say, "I've got to live my life. Yes, I love my art and I want it to be the best it can possibly be, but I'm also a human being and I want to experience life."
Is that your approach?
Everything in moderation. You can have a beer or two or have fun on the weekends as long as on Sunday you're quiet and drink lots of water. You never go too far. You never get completely hammered, you never smoke two packs of cigarettes a night, or dance or scream or go to the football game and root as loud as you can.
Is there some basis to the "opera diva" stereotype?
There are some opera singers who are complete divas.
What's typical diva behavior?
A lot of times they try to do more than their own job. They try to be the director, the conductor, the stage management. They try to take over a situation. But it's not really their job. They're just supposed to get up on stage, sing like a god or goddess, act really well, do what they're told, go where they're supposed to go.
Are there male divas?
There are male divas, trust me. And they're not necessarily gay either!
I noticed that you played a male in a role.
Yeah, I play lots of boys. It's one of my favorite things.
What does dressing up as a boy involve?
Uh, strapping things, you know, down.
Is that uncomfortable?
No. Usually sports bras are enough.
What's it like to wear the corsets you often have to wear in women's roles?
It's probably like a horse wearing a saddle. When a horse breathes out, you tighten it as they're breathing out so that when they breathe in it's extra tight. That's the way they used to do corsets in the day, and that's why women were passing out all the time. In opera, we obviously can't do that because we need our breath so there's a little bit of leeway there.
What the oddest circumstance you've performed under?
I had this job once [where] they had singing waiters and waitresses. I was in college, 18 or 19. We were singing arias and stuff.
All the waiters were singing opera?
There was only one opera singer a night usually, maybe two. It's really loud and in-your-face singing and when people are sitting down trying to eat their dinner the last thing they want is someone screaming down the back of their necks. I thought it was kind of a bad idea but I had a job, you know?
Can you remember a near-perfect moment on stage?
There was one performance in college. We were doing Carmina Burana and I was one of the soloists. My mom had just passed away that weekend and I really, really wanted to sing this performance. And I was able to sing the solo after going through so much, and to sing it beautifully. I felt like I was an oracle and my mom's spirit was there. I just felt like there was this golden glow all around me. It was an amazing experience. It was the most sublime moment of my life.