Meet Corinne Winters
The American soprano on coffee, tattoos and making a career of La Traviata.
Portrait of Corinne Winters. Photo by Fay Fox.
Corinne Winters has an enormous camellia tattooed on her right shoulder: a constant reminder of the heroine that changed her life.
Camellias are, of course, the signature flower of Violetta, heroine of La Traviata.
It was this role that catapulted the unknown, if promising American soprano onto the radar of every prestigious opera house in the world, and quite a few of their stages. Winters’ 2013 debut at English National Opera was a triumphant one, and frankly, she says, it changed her life.
“That contract sparked my international career and led to two contracts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. I also fell in love with London, which is now my permanent home.”
But there’s a deeper significance to her ink of choice. “Camellias are unique because they wither quickly when cut,” she says. “Violetta is almost a camellia herself, a beautiful flower that only lasted a moment in full bloom. Camellias remind me to live in the moment, savoring it before it’s gone.”
Right now, it’s a pretty special moment in a career that is in full bloom. Corinne Winters is in Australia rehearsing for her Australian debut as Violetta in Opera Australia’s much-loved production of La Traviata. As a self-confessed coffee nerd, she’s already enjoying the spectacular brews on offer in Sydney, where rehearsals are taking place. “I’m lucky to spend time in both Sydney and Melbourne—two of my ‘bucket list’ cities,” she says.
Life as a superstar soprano wasn’t always on the cards. At 19, Corinne Winters was singing as a mezzo-soprano and enthusiastically preparing for a career singing pants roles. Then she met Jason Ferrante, who would become a great friend and important mentor. He declared: “You’ll be singing Mimì (in La Bohème) in five years.”
Mimì is a soprano role, and that bold statement must have shocked the teenager. But five years later… “I was!” Winters says. Studying under Laurent Philippe while at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, Winters learned to trust her own instrument.
“Philippe taught me how to study a score-in depth and how to trust my voice.” Most importantly, he gave her his key phrase, which she still refers to daily. “Address the issues before they address you”.
Portrait of Corinne Winters, by Fay Fox.
Winters is proficient in a diverse repertoire: Verdi’s Violetta is never long off her schedule, but she also performs in operas by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Puccini and even a 21st century work by Huang Ruo. She’s recorded and released an album of Spanish songs and is a consummate concert performer.
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Manon Lescaut are dream roles. “In coming seasons I’ll be talking loads of Czech repertoire – Rusalka, Jenufa and Kat’a Kabanova, a role I first performed last season.”
Winters always looks for a connection with the repertoire she sings. “That can be vocally, dramatically, or textually, but the most well-received projects are the ones where all three – music, words and drama – align with my aesthetic as a performer.”
Violetta fits that bill, whether she’s performing her in a classic, visually stunning production or a regietheater type production that divides audiences. Winters relishes the complexity of the role: “The vocal, dramatic and psychological challenges of inhabiting such a dynamic character,” she gushes. “There’s always something to learn and improve.”
Through all of these performances, the timelessness of Violetta’s story continues to surprise and delight Winters. “Despite Violetta being a courtesan, despite the cultural specifics of the time, the story transcends it all. La traviata will stay relevant because of its humanity, not because of the nineteenth-century gowns (though those are lovely as well!).”