Jennifer Black never intended to become an opera singer.
She blames fate, delivered in a cruel blow by a high school teacher who told her she wasn't cut out to be an actress.
So that led her to take up singing with the school choir.
Which led her to study opera and voice in college and become an opera singer, performing over the past seven years around the globe, including with the New York Metropolitan Opera. Along the way she has been praised for her "gleaming and glorious" soprano, colored with "wonderful nuances of light and shade and complete dynamic control," in the words of the Santa Fe New Mexican. And she's been applauded for some solid acting chops: "She has the rare combination of a gorgeous voice, physical beauty and acting ability to make the character thoroughly believable," said the Portland Press Herald.
Funny thing, fate; sometimes its takes you in a big circle just to end up where you started. Next spring, Black is making her Seattle Opera debut in "La Bohème" and she has invited her old high school theater teacher to attend.
"My dad used to always tell me that the best revenge is doing well," she said last week during a break from rehearsals for Arizona Opera's "Roméo et Juliette." "So I held onto that. Some kids would have said I'm never going to do theater again; I'm going to go into business. But I just happened to be stubborn and not really good at any office skills whatsoever. Hairdresser or opera singer? Opera singer will work."
This weekend marks her second Arizona Opera performance. She was here in spring 2011 for "Otello," singing her first-ever Desdemona.
"I had worked with (conductor) Joel Revzen and (director) John Hoomes earlier that season, so it was a very comfortable, safe, nurturing environment," she said of that first Arizona experience. "We were able to experiment with the characters, and there was enough staging time to where we got to do things fully rehearsed and fully comfortable with the direction of where we were taking things. It was fantastic. And I love that we do Tucson and Phoenix; Tucson is just so beautiful."
This marks only her second time singing the role of Juliette.
"It's one of these roles where it's sort of like 'Traviata' as far as the vocal progression. 'Traviata' is very high and full of coloratura in the first act, and then it gets heavy and very dramatic in the end," she explained. "And since we're performing Juliette's last aria in this production - which is very, very rarely done; it's usually always cut - it's got this same vocal arch to the character."
Juliette goes from innocent youth to being swept into this deep love that drives her to ultimately take her own life in the name of love.
"It's just this ginormous arch for such a young girl. Of course what we have to keep in mind was that people grew up a lot faster in those days (16th century) because they didn't live as long. For her to be 14 years old is like being 27 these days, but with a teenager's emotions and hormones," Black said.
More than a dozen years after that crushing rejection, Black sees that her high school teacher probably did her the biggest favor of her life.
"If she hadn't have done that, I probably wouldn't have gotten into choir," she said. "It's a blessing in disguise."
If you go
• What: Arizona Opera presents Charles Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette."
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
• Tickets: $20 to $110 through ticketmaster.com
• Synopsis: Everybody knows the Shakespeare story of tragic young love: Boy and girl meet, but their families despise each other. Girl fakes her death so that she can sneak off with boy. Boy sees girl and thinks she's really dead so he kills himself. When girl wakes up and sees what boy has done, she kills herself to join him in blissful eternity. The ending is the same in the opera version, but you get some terrifically good music by Charles Gounod and wonderful arias.