Catching up with anthem singer Vanessa Rodriguez

Vanessa Rodriguez of Opera Tampa performs the National Anthem before the Lightning's game against the Rangers on December 29th. - Clark Brooks, Raw Charge

Vanessa Rodriguez talks to us about learning to love hockey. learning to love opera and the fine art of hustling karaoke competitions.

Lightning fans may have noticed an upgrade in terms of the pre-game presentation this season at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That could be due at least in part to performers from Opera Tampa on hand to perform the National Anthem prior to some games.

One of those performers is soprano Eileen Vanessa Rodriguez. Originally from New York and a product of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (yes, the one featured in "Fame"), Ms. Rodriguez obtained a Bachelors of Science in Music Education at the University of South Florida, where she studied voice under the guidance of Dr. Warren Jaworski. At the university she performed Despina in Cosi fan tutte and Gretel in Hansel & Gretel. She also performed the role of Frasquita in Carmen under the direction of renowned director Tito Capobianco in Opera Tampa's Voice Experience program. Concerning oratorio repertoire, Ms. Rodriguez has performed as soprano soloist for Handel's Messiah, Bach Magnificat and Poulenc's Gloria locally. She's been a part of several St. Petersburg Opera productions. More notably, she covered Barbarina in the Marriage of Figaro, was a featured soloist in Seasonal Sparkle 2012 and performed the role of Echo in their summer production of Ariadne auf Naxos.

Aside from being a part of these productions, she was voted "Saint Petersburg Opera Idol" in May of 2012 and is currently a resident artist with the company. Ms. Rodriguez performed the role of Angelina in Trial by Jury and covered Rosina with Hubbard Hall Opera in their 2013 summer production of The Barber of Seville. She has been selected as an Opera Tampa singer/resident artist performing in outreach events, galas and concerts in the tri-city area and will be covering the role of Frasquita in Opera Tampa's production of Carmen under the baton of the noted Maestro Daniel Lipton in March 2014.

We sat down and talked with her recently and asked her about the difficulties of performing in front of huge crowds in a huge building and how a hockey fan might go about becoming an opera fan and what an opera singer thinks of the Lightning's chances to make the playoffs.

Have you ever sung the national anthem at sporting events before?

Well, this is my first year singing for an official team.

Are these the biggest crowds you've ever sung in front of?

Yes, probably. Because I heard it's around 18,000?

19,204 when the games are sold out, actually.

Wow! Then yes, definitely.

What's your musical background?

I've been singing since I was three.  I grew up singing in church. And there was a woman in charge of children's groups, the children's ministry, and she heard me singing and just started teaching me songs. She was the first person that really taught me about the art of music.

I understand that you're actually a relative newcomer to singing opera?

Yes, for only three years.

How does one decide to become an opera singer and get that good at it so quickly?

Well, opera is very subjective so what's really good for some people... thank you for the compliment, but I hope I'm really good to those people who will hire me (laughs). But I think because I started late in the game and started older in the game, I'm more aware of myself and it just made sense to me what my vocal coaches were telling me to do, as far as where to place my breath and things like that.

Is opera something you've always enjoyed?

I never really thought about opera until I started studying music in college because the only route here at the University of South Florida to take when you study music is to do the classical training, so I just happened to fall in love with it when I started studying it.

I'm not afraid to admit that I'm kind of intimidated by opera. What would you tell Lightning fans who might have heard you at the Forum who might be curious about opera and want to to check it out?

I would really love for my singing to encourage someone to go see an opera! That would be ideal. I would suggest that they start out with something very light and comical. Possibly a Mozart opera or Rossinni. Such as "The Barber of Seville" or "The Marriage of Figaro" or even an opera in English.

They have those?

Yes, of course. There's opera in almost every language

Now, how many have Viking helmets and spears and shields?

(Laughs) That is reserved for only a select few and that's the heavy stuff. That's what I would NOT advise, for newcomers to go see a Wagnerian opera. I would not tell them for their first opera to sit through a five hour Ring Cycle.

Five hours?!? That's, like, two hockey games!

Well, yes. The Ring Cycle is made up of Wagner's four epic operas and lasts five to six hours.

What if somebody really likes Vikings?

If they really like Vikings, then maybe they'll fall in love with Wagner too, because it's absolutely exquisite music. I'm at the edge of my seat when I watch it.

It's in German, right?

Yes, it is.

So you must speak German then?

I don't speak German but I can sing in German and I can understand what I'm singing. There are a few words here and there that I may be able to understand if someone speaks to me with words that I've sung. So I guess I do speak German, as long as it's poetry that I've sung (laughs).

Were you a hockey fan before this season?

Actually no! I'm definitely a hockey fan now, though. I'm a convert. I absolutely love it.

What drew you in?

The fighting, of course. (laughs). I also love it when a player will peg some other player against the glass. That's pretty exciting. It's an exciting sport. There's always something happening on the ice.

Who's your favorite player?

Ryan Malone.

Do you perform other music besides opera?

I don't, no.  I used to, though. I used to sing in a pop/rock band years ago. I did karaoke contests for a while.

That's kind of cheating, isn't it?

Hey, I won $2000 once!

How does that work? You come in, sit in the back with nerd glasses, wearing a Lightning jersey and your hair all messed up. Everybody says, ‘aw, she's no good' and then you blow the roof off the joint? That's called sandbagging.

(Laughs) No, no, I just walked in as myself. It was an R&B karaoke contest. I love R&B. Whitney Houston was my all-time favorite. She was my idol growing up and inspired me in what I wanted to do with my life as far as being a singer like her.

Mm-hmm. If I'm ever out singing karaoke and I see you walk in, I'm just going to get up and leave.

(Laughs) Don't do that!

I've heard it's difficult to sing in a sports arena. Why is that?

Only because of the equipment I have to use (microphones and monitors). It took two or three run-throughs to get used to, to adjust and try to sing ahead of what I'm hearing so I'm not really listening to myself. There are no microphones in opera. It's totally "live". And the acoustics in a theatre are designed for singers where that's obviously not the case in an arena. An arena this large, If I were to sing without a mic I may be heard by the first few rows, possibly. Now, a Wagnerian singer, might have a shot at being heard upstairs (laughs)

What's next for Vanessa Rodriguez?

I've been auditioning a lot in New York. I've had wonderful auditions, about seven of them. These are opera companies for specific shows in their seasons. It's really tough, you know. It's tough to break in. I'm in the in-between stage. I have my degree. I've worked local. I've worked with Opera Tampa and St. Petersburg Opera and they've been wonderful. It's been fantastic to be a resident artist for them. I will be covering a role with Opera Tampa in their production of Carmen (March 14-16 at the Strazz Center). So my next step hopefully is landing some jobs in New York. And the next step after that is getting an agent. I am looking for representation (laughs).

I could do that. I mean, I never have but it wouldn't be the first time I had a job I wasn't qualified for. Besides, you'd do all the real work, right?

(Laughs) Yes, that's right.

As a relatively new convert, what would you tell your fellow Lightning fans?

I'd say let's all hang in there. With our support, they've proven they can manage the rough patches. Pretty soon we'll see Stamkos back in the lineup, just in time to really push for the playoffs, so as good as they are now, the best is yet to come. Go Bolts!

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