You’re at the opera or a classical concert. The lights dim, the soloists appear. They sing, and you forget everything else going on in the world.
Ever wonder how they got there?
This weekend, highly acclaimed mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford is in Boston, performing as a soloist under the baton of Andris Nelsons with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus in three performances of the Mozart Requiem.
It’s a coup for the BSO to land Mumford, who has established herself as one of the top mezzos of her generation.
Mumford is a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera, where she has sung everything from Rigoletto, Ariadne auf Naxos, Cavelleria Rusticana, Nixon in China, and the Magic Flute all the way to the complete Ring Cycle.
She keeps her passport up to date, with performances at Glyndebourne and the BBC Proms in the UK, Milan, and other European cities.
There’s hardly an important venue in America where she hasn’t dazzled audiences, from the Hollywood Bowl, Ravinia, and Tanglewood to Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
The New York Times has called her voice “revelatory.”
Sometimes an orchestra or opera director will contact a manager of singers and ask, “Do you have a mezzo who’s right for these performances?”
In Mumford’s case, her reputation precedes her. She’s performed several times with the BSO at Tanglewood, singing Beethoven’s Ninth. She has also worked with BSO music director Andris Nelsons at the Metropolitan Opera. So she’s a known quantity to the BSO.
“A lot of concert repertoire is right for my voice,” Mumford says. “I’m a true alto voice, and I enjoy singing in the lowest parts of my range. It wouldn’t work for me to sing higher mezzo-soprano parts.”
Mumford is delighted with Nelsons’ approach to the Mozart Requiem.
“His approach is so full and dramatic,” she says, “and then he’ll pull away to almost nothing. What he showed us in the performance was wonderful music making that felt spontaneous.
Mumford was born in Canada; her family moved to Utah when she was 8 years old, where she received her initial voice training. At a voice competition, she came in contact with Doris Yarick Cross, who ran Yale’s Master’s Program in voice.
Cross invited her to Yale, where Mumford spent a year before she transferred to the Lindemann Program for Young Artists at the Metropolitan Opera House.
“I was young and wide-eyed at the Met,” Mumford recalls. “I was too young to be scared, and so eager to get everyone’s ideas. I didn’t have an attitude of, ‘There’s nothing more you can tell me about singing.’ I recognized that I was getting a big opportunity, and I tried to make the most of it.”
Mumford describes herself as a deeply spiritual person and says that “music feeds into that part of my soul that I don’t think I could get from any other place. It’s not just from my own singing, but simply from sitting on the stage, being surrounded by an orchestra, and hearing the music pouring out. It must come from some kind of higher power. It’s something that touches me profoundly.”
Mumford says her husband isn’t a musician, but she wanted him to experience what she got out of music.
“I had just sung Mahler’s 3rd symphony,” she says, laughing. “I turned on a recording of it at home and made my husband lay down on the floor and listen to the last few movements. ‘Did this move you?’ I asked him.
“He didn’t know quite what to say, so he said, ‘Yes, it’s beautiful.’
“‘But you should be weeping,’ I told him!”
“Music brings a closeness to something that’s outside of this world,” Mumford concludes. “It’s amazing to me that I get to live my life in this world.”
For further information, BSO.org.