"I'm an artist, thinker, goof, Pennsylvania born citizen of the world who loves adventure, coffee, and cats."
Meet the first of Opera Memphis's two Handorf Company Artists for the 2019-20 Season: Jake Stamatis! Born and raised in the tiny rural town of Tunkhannock in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Jake's love for opera began during his formative years while watching the popular children's cartoon Hey, Arnold! on Nickelodeon.
"There was a full episode where they went to the opera and all of the characters ended up singing the music from Carmen and Pagliacci and others. I remember performing that whole episode (as each of the characters) for my grandmother, running around the living room, and being extra."
CLICK HERE to watch the full episode (starting at 10:00).
This love for music took hold in high school where he sang with the school choir, and carried over to college where he began pursuing a degree in Music Education. After his first private vocal lesson, though, he found a love for singing classical music, quickly changed his major to Vocal Performance, and ran with it! 10 years later, his pursuit of a career in opera brings him out his northeastern bubble into the heart of the Mid-South.
"My sister lives in Jonesboro, Arkansas and goes into Memphis all the time! She raves about her favorite spots, and inspired me to look into the city and its culture. Once I saw that there was an opera company there, I knew I had to audition. After that initial contact, my research showed me the caliber of work that Opera Memphis puts on, and its commitment to enriching and honoring their community. That's really attractive to me. They are making art that has an immediate local impact. That's exciting work, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.
I can already tell that my time in Memphis will ready me for the next portion of my young career. Tahanee [Aluwihare] and I will be working at such a high level, and there is a variety of programs and performances and opportunities for us to reach such a diverse audience...Opera Memphis seems to operate in a way that is so unlike other companies in the U.S., and I find that to be incredibly exciting."
Though always rewarding and exhilarating, opera has challenged Jake in ways singers can't always anticipate. From learning dissonant German music at the young age of 18 in Vicktor Ulmann's The Emperor of Atlantis (Jake's first opera ever), to the heavy emotional demands of portraying an assailant in Thumbprint (an opera about the true story of Muhktar Mai, the first female victim of gang rape to bring her attackers to justice in Pakistan), to having to perform twice with absolutely no voice during a production of Evita at Seagle Music Colony ("I ended up going on and just speaking my songs as if they were monologues overtop the music."), he has allowed these moments of difficulty and being pushed outside of his comfort zone strengthen his desire to impact the world around him with his art.
"I'm committing my life to portraying people on stage who are often from a very different background than my own...I see opera being my contribution to the global community."
"There are so many lessons I've learned, even just over the past year or so, that have been incredibly impactful for me. I don't know which is the one that's best...but I'll choose this one: Always spread light. This sounds flowery and idealistic, but I believe in it. Our words, our actions, our posts on social media all have an impact. I read in the I Ching once, you know as one does *laughs*, to resist the impulses to act in a way that's contrary to my best self, and to always work towards spreading light. Not necessarily being happy all the time, but being kind. Considering others. Not putting someone down, but lifting everyone up. That feels fulfilling to me. I hope that by using my artistic platform in a way that spreads light others will find a way to be brave enough to be kind to one another."
When he's not performing leading roles around the country or reading ancient Chinese divination texts, Jake can be found hiking, enjoying nature, doing some yoga, reading a book, or finding quiet moments to let time slow down. He's also a bit of a foodie, so any Memphians with recommendations for great coffee shops, restaurants, and of course BBQ are encouraged to share their favorite local spots with Jake!
You can meet Jake at several events happening this season, including a concert with IRIS Orchestra featuring him and Tahanee Aluwihare, and catch him around town performing during 30 Days of Opera.