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IGNORING THE HYPE : Soprano Dawn Upshaw Has No Interest in Pedestals

November 15, 1990|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition

At 30, soprano Dawn Upshaw already has been widely heralded as one of the outstanding American singers of her generation, both in opera and in recital.

She will make her only Southland appearance this season, in a recital sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, today at 8 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Accompanied by pianist Margo Garrett, Upshaw will sing works by Purcell, Poulenc, Wolf, Rachmaninoff and Barber.

What does the young singer think of all the praise she's been getting?

"Mainly, I don't believe anything that anybody says," Upshaw said in a recent phone interview from London, where she was recording Charpentier's "Te Deum" and "Magnificat" with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields for EMI.

"I'm exaggerating. But I think that when things seem to be going so well that sometimes people can put you on a pedestal. That's it, really: The image that they create in their own mind is a position of persuading other people as well, like writers. It's not always veryrealistic.

"I think that everybody has faults. I certainly know that I have a lot of growing to do in terms of my singing.

"I have a fair amount of confidence in myself, but I also feel that I know what I don't do well and I know when I haven't sung well in a performance. I don't try to kid myself. I would always try to do a better job."

Growing up in Park Forest, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, Upshaw did not begin her professional career until she was 24, after receiving her graduate degree from the Manhattan School of Music.

In 1984, she won Young Concerts Artists International Auditions and a place in the Metropolitan Opera's Young Artist Development program, which led to her first major role at the Met, in February, 1988, as Adina in Donizetti's "L'elisir d'amore."

Her 1989 recording of songs by Harbison, Barber, Menotti and Stravinski won a 1990 Grammy Award.

"I don't see my career as a meteoric rise," she said. "I wouldn't call it a push either. I feel like it made sense the way things have gone. Maybe it's gone a little faster than for other people.

"A lot of that has to do with the repertoire that I sing. I'm not a Wagnerian soprano who has to wait around for my voice to mature to its fullest for that.

"The thing, too, it helps to have had some of the encouragement and support of particularly major figures. (Conductor) James Levine (of the Met), or the Young Concert Artists or the Naumburg (Vocal) Competition in 1985. That often speeds things up, puts you out in front of the public a little sooner than might otherwise have happened."

But she also took the risk of interrupting her career temporarily to have daughter Sarah, who is "almost a year old." (Upshaw is married to musicologist Michael Nott, son of David Nott, her former voice teacher at Illinois Wesleyan University.)

"I had to cancel maybe four or five things once I heard I was pregnant," she said. "But that was the best reason to cancel. I certainly didn't mind."

While Manhattan is home now, she's thinking of moving out of the city to raise her family.

"I think I'd feel a little calmer and more settled if we were in a suburb of New York or even some place altogether different," she said. "Where to? I don't know. . . ."

"Many people grow up in New York City and are fine healthy human beings. I would rather raise a family somewhere else."

Upshaw says that she generally doesn't listen to the competition.

"I don't listen to singers," she said. "I really don't listen to any recordings any more, not because I don't want to. It's difficult to find the time. . . .And I'm so involved in my own music that coming home and listening to music again after rehearsing is not my first choice."

Does she read the critics?

"Not really any more," she said. "I occasionally read something that either somebody in my family or a manager will find might be of interest to me. But I sort of decided about a year and a half ago that it didn't seem like the healthiest thing for me to be reading all my reviews or thinking about them. I'd do better putting my mind into my music and audience.

"I feel that if things start going really badly, I have plenty of people who will really know," she laughed.

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