Center Stage With: Rachael Holzhausen

Ms. Holzhausen grew up in Michigan where her parents took her to many Broadway performances and where the inhabitants LOVE their winter sports. Her experiences as a young lady include learning how to build sets, participating in choral competitions, snowboarding and so much more. She has always loved choral singing due to her exposure to it at such a young age and mentions that her parents nurtured her interests by finding ways for her to be involved in the performing arts. It really is no surprise that she ended up singing in a chorus as her full-time career. Her first season at Lyric was in 2004-2005 and her first production was Midsummer Marriage. She was a supplementary/Core Member of the Chorus for 6 seasons prior to being invited to be a full-time chorister. She has a 5-year-old daughter and gave birth less than 24 hours after a performance of La Traviata at Lyric. She talks about the challenges of being very pregnant while performing onstage and how she was able to get through it in a large part due to our amazing and accommodating wardrobe department. We speculate on whether one of the operas from that season influenced her decision of what to name her daughter.  In this article you will find out what that production was, what her Mother’s reaction was the first time she ever saw her perform a death scene, what her favorite opera to sing as a chorister is and what her favorite productions have been at Lyric during her time here.

Q:  What is your favorite opera and why?

Holzhausen:  Hard to narrow it down to just one! One of my favorite operas to sing as a chorister is Turandot. The riddle scene is just really fun, full-out singing! Another opera I would absolutely love to be a part of someday would be Susannah by Carlisle Floyd. It’s filled with such beautiful melodies and imagery. It’s really the perfect American opera.  As an audience member, I’m becoming a Wagner fan and am very much looking forward to seeing my first Ring Cycle here at Lyric Opera!  

Q:  What is your favorite opera production/cast/performance at Lyric?

Holzhausen:  Our recent Cendrillon production has been such a joy to be a part of! The cast was top notch, and the chorus got to play a big role in this detailed, movement-driven production. The production staff worked incredibly hard to make sure we had every little detail right. (For instance, we would get a note if our hands weren’t properly placed in front of us when lying on the ground during the spirit scene.) It’s probably one of the most difficult parts we’ve had to do, but I am immensely proud of how we, as chorus, rose to the challenge! 

Rachael Holzhausen backstage during Lyric Opera’s recent production of Massenet’s Cendrillon

Q:  What do you do on your days off from Lyric?

Holzhausen:  I have a five-year-old daughter. So, I try to make the best of our days off together. We spend a lot of time hanging out at home putting together Legos, playing games like Uno and having dance parties.

Q:  Do you speak any other languages? Does this help you as a chorister?

Holzhausen:  Italian is my most proficient language. I’m able to understand it fairly well, but I would have to practice speaking before trying to hold a conversation with anyone. I’ve gotten a bit rusty! It is definitely helpful to understand the languages we sing in, or at the very least, to look at the translations provided for us so that we know what’s happening on stage. There are long stretches when we are onstage reacting but not singing. It’s key to read through the translations so we can stay engaged in the action.  

Q:  Where and what did you study? Do you have any degrees in music or any outside of music?

Holzhausen:  I received my Bachelor’s of Music degree with teacher certification (K-12 music) from the University of Michigan and my Master’s of Music (vocal performance) from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. 

Q:  If you could sing any role, what would it be and why?

Holzhausen:  I imagine it would be absolutely thrilling to sing Lucia’s mad scene! (Or any good mad scene for that matter!)  Growing up I was obsessed with musical theater and so badly wanted to be Kim from Miss Saigon! I can say with some certainty that I will never sing either role, but I’m always amazed when people can do it well!

Q: In your time at Lyric, you have performed a number of roles/understudies. How many have you performed during your time here and what was your favorite of those?

Holzhausen: I’ve covered and sung several small roles (6 total I believe?) with Gerhilde/Die Walküre being my favorite to date. There was a giant moving bridge on the Walküre set of that production.  I get motion sickness easily so it would have been so exciting and terrifying to have had to go on as Gerhilde in that production!  As luck had it, I only had to experience the bridge in rehearsal.

Q:  Tell me some of your most memorable moments from your time at Lyric?

Holzhausen:  For me, the most memorable moments at Lyric Opera have been a result of directors who trusted the chorus with very specific character choices and tasked us to portray people in difficult situations and subject material. Three directors stand out to me: Our role as bawdy courtesans in David McVickar’s production of Manon, playing the Greek chorus/soldiers returning from war in Peter Sellar’s production of Hercules, and portraying the very sensitive material of holocaust camp prisoners in David Pountney’s production of The Passenger.  The director’s intentions and involvement of the chorus was so crystal clear in each of these instances that we just had to jump in to help them achieve their beautifully conceived vision. What a dream to get to work with such accomplished directors!

Q:  Do you have any interesting stories or events you were involved in from before you started at Lyric or not pertaining to Lyric (related to opera or otherwise)?

Holzhausen:  One of my favorite opera memories was playing the role of Isabel/Madeline in Henry Mollicone’s opera The Face on the Barroom Floor at Central City Opera.  The piece was originally commissioned by Central City Opera and takes place in the actual bar where the painting of Madeline can still be seen on the bar floor. During the 25-minute piece, I died not once, but twice–a fact that I neglected to tell my mother before she came to see it. She now asks how many times I’m going to die in a performance before she will agree to attend!

Q: The last time we did the production of “La Traviata” here at Lyric, you were pregnant and as I recall, you gave birth less than 24 hours after a performance. I imagine it was physically a bit uncomfortable wearing a corseted costume and being onstage performing that close to giving birth. It is also probably a very memorable and special experience for you as we prepare to perform it again this season. Can you tell me more about that experience? Also, your daughter is named Amelia.  Was that after an opera character that you love or did that name just resonate with you?

For Lyric’s last presentation of La Traviata, Mrs. Holzhausen was fitted with a customized costume for her little one!

Holzhausen: Yes, I was pregnant the last time we performed Traviata! I remember needing to sit down a lot during that production and was thankful for the many chairs available on the set! I was also grateful that the costume department made me a special slip that would grow underneath my dress as I progressed in the pregnancy so I didn’t have to wear a corset.  It did make me smile to see that slip again during my recent costume fitting. And I’m looking forward to being able to take part in more of the action on stage this time around! I went into labor after one of the performances, I believe it was show number four of the run, with my daughter arriving three weeks before her due date!

My husband and I chose the name Amelia for our daughter because we like that it means industrious, and strong leader (if you met my daughter you’d agree that this name fits her well).  But my involvement in Otello during my pregnancy may also have played a role in the name choice. At one point during the opera, the men sang the line “Emilia” in unison, and it likely planted the seed as to why we ultimately chose the name Amelia! In that same production of Otello, I was placed in the balcony with very steep stairs that I had to get down. Every night before Ana Maria Martinez made her first entrance up the stairs (playing the role of Desdemona no less), she would take my hands and help me get down the stairs safely.  It was one of many acts of kindness that stood out during that time!

Q:  What composer would you want to write the opera of your life and why?

Holzhausen:  Even though my life story would be pretty boring if made into an opera, I would choose Massenet to compose the score, since he has the ability to make such charming stories come to life! And that way it would be kid-friendly and my daughter would be able to come and see it.

Q:  I understand you enjoy riding motorcycles and snowboarding. Tell me a little about that and what your other favorite hobbies are outside of Opera?

Rachael enjoys hitting the slopes during her downtime from singing at Lyric.

Holzhausen: There was a time in my not-so-distant past that I loved to snowboard, and my husband and I traveled quite a bit to hit the slopes. I learned how to ride a motorcycle and obtained my motorcycle license a few years back (after riding on the back of my husband’s Ducati for many years).  Although I haven’t done either since my daughter was born, this winter I’ve started teaching my daughter to ski (I learned at age 5). We also enjoy ice skating and sledding together. I’m from Northern Michigan, so we kind of have to love our winter sports!

Q:  Tell me a little about your family (partner, children, close relatives) and their significance in your life and career.

Holzhausen: I’m very fortunate that my family has always been supportive of my love of singing, and still travel in from Michigan to catch a performance. Growing up, my parents took my sister and me to many Broadway performances, helped build sets and make costumes for numerous musicals that I was a part of, and drove me all over the state for competitions and Honors Choir. Although it wasn’t until college that I attended my first opera- Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortilèges, I’ve always loved choral singing. Throughout middle and high school my poor sister had to endure my screaming along to musical theater soundtracks while she tried to study in the room next door. She now works as a medical technician in a hospital and holds several degrees, including one in biochemistry. Fortunately I don’t think it interfered with her studying too much! As for my husband, I like to joke that I was very upfront about my desire to sing opera when we first met in college. An accountant and skilled woodworker, he appreciates music and understands why I have to do what I do.  In return I try not to pester him too much when he purchases old motorcycles to tinker on, since that’s his “thing”.

Q:  Do you have any performing/ opera related things coming up?

Holzhausen:  I’m looking forward to testing out some new repertoire at one of our upcoming LOSA outreach concerts. As part of a rotating group of the chorus, we enjoy performing at several area assisted living facilities.  It’s wonderful to sing for the residents who often sing along!

Q:  If you weren’t a singer, what would you be doing and why?

Holzhausen:  I’m considering taking some courses in nutrition, since it’s something I’ve recently become passionate about.  A couple of ways that I would love to get into the field would be to teach cooking classes to kids, or work with restaurants to come up with menus for people with food sensitivities. This would be an exciting time to get into the field of nutrition, since our culture has really started to connect the dots in understanding the importance of food in relation to our health. I would love to help be a part of that food revolution in some way!

Q:  Do you play any instruments? If you don’t, which one would you want to play?

Holzhausen:  One of our band directors in high school was an accomplished percussionist. I was fortunate to play in the award-winning, all-female snare drumline in our marching band. I’ve always loved playing percussion, and I’ve started getting back into it at church. I recently accompanied the choir on the djembe and it was so fun! I always wanted to play the piano better but barely passed my required courses in college. Maybe in another lifetime!  

Q:  What kind of music do you listen to outside of the opera house?

Holzhausen:  On a recent rare solo car trip I caught up on some of my new favorite bands including Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lauren Daigle, as well as some of my old favorites like Bonnie Raitt and Alison Krauss. I listen to a lot of folks and blues – stuff that’s fun to sing along to in the car!

Q:  What do you do in your down time backstage in the dressing room?

Holzhausen:  When we have a nice long chunk of time I like to cross-stitch or chat with my fellow colleagues (although we haven’t had an opera with a big break lately). My daughter asked me to make her a cross stitch mermaid so hopefully there will be some time during Traviata to do that!  

Q:  Do you have a sore throat remedy?

Holzhausen:  Rest! When I start to feel something coming on, I try to slow down and drink lots of hot beverages.