ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Ola Rafalo, mezzo-soprano

Sotto Voce is thrilled to introduce mezzo-soprano Ola Rafalo to the Buffalo stage as the titular “Second Seer” in the June 2021 premiere of The Second Sight. Ms. Rafalo is the ideal Diskana in every way – she wields a voice of great power and expressivity, has a reverence both for tradition and innovation, and is herself a very spiritual woman in-tune with herself and the universe.

Ola’s voice is like a force of nature. When you listen to her recordings, you will no doubt be drawn in by the profound depth of her lower register that is matched in power by a brilliant upper range. You may also be entranced by the expressivity of her physical embodiment of the characters she portrays, coupled with the fluidity and intention with which she shapes a line. However, hearing recordings of Ola can not compare to hearing her live. Her voice is not just a sound, it is a sensation, a wave of vibrations that nearly knocks the wind out of you. She opens her mouth and suddenly the air is alive, and you are swimming in sound. If you have never experienced something like this, you will not want to miss your chance in Buffalo this June.

The repertoire Ms. Rafalo excels in is dramatic and sumptuous, and she always highlights a work’s unique colors. When she sings Verdi’s Ulrica, for example, the fortune-teller’s haunting melodies undulate with a primal force. However, her sound easily morphs into the sensuous entreaties of Saint-Saens’s Biblical heroine Dalila, with liquid tones that pool gently and then overflow with longing. While thus far in her career Ms. Rafalo is perhaps best known for her fierce and stunning portrayal of Carmen, she likewise champions lesser known works of the canon, including a great deal of Slavic repertoire to which she feels deeply connected through her Polish heritage.

Ms. Rafalo is truly a great technician as in the Golden Age of singing, producing a dramatic mezzo sound that is rarely heard in the modern era. She and The Second Sight’s composer Jessie Downs connected through their tutelage under master pedagogue Franco Bertacci and the profound experiences this very traditional teaching has had on them both. Ms. Rafalo approaches her singing with a steadfast reverence for tradition, and it shows; critics have recognized her as an inheritor of the great masters, someone who could become “the next Cossotto,” and juries have awarded her such accolades as the Maria Callas prize. At the same time, Ola is also very much a modern artist who pushes herself to go ever deeper in her understanding and interpretation of the music she sings. From her acting to her make-up artistry, her flute playing to her linguistic fluency, Ola brings so many diverse skills into her holistic practice of being an opera singer.

Lastly, Ola is also a deeply spiritual person who believes in the power of art to offer transcendent experiences. She also understands the struggles an artist must endure both to make the work they are called to make and to find outlets and support systems for that art in the world. Whether the topic is artistry, interpersonal relationships, self-understanding, or healing, Ola always has some deep insight to share. In this way, Ola is not only a great artist who will be bringing a “visionary” character to life in the opera this June, but she is herself a visionary, on and off the stage.

It is Sotto Voce’s great pleasure to have Ola Rafalo as our prima donna this year. We hope you will check out her web presence – including her website and her youtube page – and bring YOUR presence to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo this summer to experience the diva at work!

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