Lakewood native reprises role as Delilah in Seattle Opera debut
J'Nai Bridges, who grew up in Lakewood, Wash. south of Tacoma, makes her debut at the Seattle Opera this weekend taking on the role of Delilah in Samson and Delilah.
One of the most famous operas in French repertoire, Samson and Delilah is based on the Old Testament and tells the story of Delilah seducing Samson to find out the secret to his strength in an attempt to bring him down. It's the first time the opera has been performed in Seattle since 1965.
Bridges, a mezzo-soprano, has come a long way from her days at Tacoma's Charles Wright Academy and the Tacoma Youth Chorus. She's performed with the Metropolitan Opera, sung at Carnegie Hall and at concert halls in Europe. She's also been part of two Grammy Award winning productions and is nominated for Best Classical Solo Vocal album this year.
She joined KNKX’s All Things Considered host Emil Moffatt in our Seattle studios for a conversation. Listen above, or read selected quotes below.
On the role of Delilah.
Well, she's really interesting, Delilah. And I think that you have to have some years behind you, you have to have experienced some life. And I sang the role for the first time three years ago. It was scary for me because I just kind of felt like this woman is – she's complex. So I kind of felt like I didn't have enough life on me. And now I'm at a point where I've experienced some things. And so kind of delving into my experiences where I can relate to her really helps.
On how an opera singer can bring their own personality to a role.
The beauty of being an opera singer and an individual is that we are just that. I do bring a youth to her. You often hear this role sung by more mature women, and it's just different in that way. But I think with the body and just where I am in life, I can be very athletic with her physically, but also just emotionally. I go far.
On performing with the Seattle Opera, so close to her hometown.
Oh, my goodness. I'm afraid everyone is going to be my either my family member, or my church member, or someone that I know from home. So, yes, I'm really excited.
On growing up in Lakewood, near Tacoma.
I was always active in sports, basketball in particular. I [was] very active in the church choir. My parents had us very busy. The voice, classical voice came much later. I was almost 18, so it was really kind of late, you can say, for a musician. But I fell so much in love with it.
On how preparing for an opera performance is similar to her time playing basketball in high school.
They're so alike and there's so many parallels. I often talk to young students about how you're not always going to be 'on'. When I used to play basketball, someone has to lose a game – someone wins and someone loses. And then you think about, 'okay, that wasn't my best performance. What can I do to be better?' I really liked to liken it to opera in that way. Sometimes you'll have an off night or forget a word or staging or whatever, and it's like in the moment you just got to keep going.
Samson and Delilah in Concert from the Seattle Opera takes place Friday evening and Sunday afternoon at McCaw Hall.