My Past Life as an Opera Diva

A very few friends may remember my past life as an opera diva in Italy. It was a passionate time, an adventure in destiny. Here are the last remaining photos and a playlist of my eight favorite arias. Enjoy the video playlist below. 



My opera chapter was a 15-year total immersion experience. After living in the meditation institute for 20 years, my voice was discovered, and I moved to New York City to study with many teachers at the Metropolitan opera. For a few years I had a feeding frenzy in New York with 3 voice teachers, an Italian teacher, numerous acting coaches. I won the NYC Liederkranz contest in 1987 and moved to Venice Italy, where I won first prize in the international Iris Adami Corradetti contest in Padua. After that I sang  prima donna roles in Italy and Europe. My debut as Lucia di Lammermoor was at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste. Other roles included Violetta in La Traviata, Rosina in Barber of Seville, Fiordiligi in Cosi fan Tutte, Nedda in I Pagliacci, Suor Angelica, Semiramide by Rossini, Mimi in La Boheme, Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly, First Lady in the Magic Flute.

Within Europe I sang concerts in Italy, Sicily, Germany, and Switzerland. I even sang as Maria in the Sound of Music (which Italians LOVE.) I sang as Candide by Leonard Bernstein. My concerts were arias and lieder in German, Italian, Russian, French, Spanish. I even studied Polish to sing Gorecki Symphony No. 3 with the Oregon Symphony. I recorded “Songs of Union for soprano and Orchestra” in Farsi, with an Iranian composer, Dariush Dolatshahi. After a season of La Traviata in South Africa in 1994, I left the music world and returned to the USA. Oh my, it was fun and exciting, but way too exhausting and stressful. My health was ruined and I had to start my life over in many ways.

At a concert in 1988 in Boston.

What did I learn? Oh dear. I lost my innocence. After being protected in a spiritual center for 20 years, I was thrown out alone into the cruel world. I had to learn about competition, jealousy, and backstabbing, a tradition in theaters. I learned to speak Italian and how to talk dirty in Sicilian. I learned the music business is ruled by money. Even the top singers like Callas and Sutherland had to PAY the theaters in order to sing! Oh yes. I had to take care of my health alone amid a public that wants to TAKE everything from you. I learned how it feels to be worshipped as a goddess in the evening, and treated like trash the next morning dragging my suitcase alone through the train station. I learned to walk in stiletto heels. Ha Ha!

After winning the Coradetti contest in Padova, I worked with many famous opera icons of Europe.  I won’t mention any names, because what I saw was not pretty. I observed them intimately in their homes and backstage. What I saw was a desperate clique of exaggerated egos, in-fighting, alcoholism, sexual misbehavior, jealousy, drug addiction, and entire lives wasted trying to re-live a few past glorious moments of illusion. It was a close-up lesson in how NOT to live. In the end, alas,  I had no more archetypes or icons to worship. 

Suor Angelica by Puccini in Boston, 1984.

What did I learn? I learned to travel alone on trains, to warm up my voice in train station bathrooms, and sleep in seedy hotels. I learned to expand my vocal range to sing low, medium and high, by micro-training my cranium muscles and sinuses to vibrate with every vast sinew. Especially the confluence of sinuses and the jaw, these are the secret to high notes. I learned how to be fearless. I learned that a dream has its limitations. 

Heh Heh – And I took many risks. Since I had very little acting training, I had to TRIPLE believe every role I sang. I totally immersed myself in the character for a few hours. Some of these intense performances, I’m told, were mesmerizing. In the process, I learned to communicate emotions with sound, like a transmission to an audience, to fill a whole theater with joy. My favorite moment in opera is to die onstage. Oh yes. I died of consumption as Violetta. I took poison as Suor Angelica. And I went mad as Lucia di Lammermor. I discovered there is great spirit in music, and I was deeply disappointed there is no spiritual ascension on stage. Ascension is private, and it happens in another dimension altogether. True ascension is not made-up make-believe. So I returned home to the spiritual enclave to pursue the business of Venetian glass jewelry, Qigong, meditation, and healing. But that’s another story. Enjoy the music!

Songs of Union for Soprano and Symphony Orchestra

by Dariush Dolat-Shahi and Jane Barthelemy

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