Student-teacher Julia Janowski finds her voice in opera

Standing on the stage at a theater, the bright lights shining in her face, the melody in the orchestra pit, her powerful mezzo-soprano voice rose over the orchestra and flowed into the enchanted audience. FHC’s choir student-teacher Julia Janowski has found her voice in singing opera. 

“[On stage singing,] it feels like I am myself,” Janowski said. “It feels like I am really connecting with the people who are listening, and we are sharing something that is beautiful.” 

Janowski loves opera, and she loves how powerful it makes her feel when she is performing.

“Just the fact that [with] signing you are creating music with your own body, and with opera, you are singing over an orchestra with no amplification,” Janowski said. “So, the fact that everything you were doing is completely natural and you are creating at yourself, there is an element of dignity to that. You just feel completely empowered to do anything.” 

Being a mezzo-soprano, Janowski normally plays the parts of an older woman or a young boy to fit the voice parts, but she was once able to get the part of Sally in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. This role has been one of her favorites.

“I got to sing a really long solo where I got to be a diva for a bit,” Janowski said. “I also got to wear a dress which was fun because [being a] mezzo-Soprano, you are often playing pants roles.”

The fact that everything you were doing is completely natural and you are creating at yourself, there is an element of dignity to that. You just feel completely empowered to do anything.”

— Julia Janowski

Another favorite of Janowski’s is the time she played Zita in the opera Gianni Schicchi written by Puccini.

 “I was the aunt to the Rinuccio, the tenor, in the show, and I was this angry old lady,” Janowski said. “It was really fun to be funny and angry all the time. We were also on stage the whole time so we had little bits of singing throughout the whole thing instead of one big solo. It was a lot of singing spread out, and it is a comedy show, so there is a lot of fun staging and really funny jokes.”

To get to where she is now, Janowski has had vocal lessons since her freshman year of high school, and in her senior year of college, she started to get coaching for her singing.

“[My vocal coach] specializes more on the collaboration aspect of piano or orchestra and the singer as well as diction and language because, in opera, you sing in a lot of different languages,” Janowski said. “Also, [we worked on] just very detailed, specific things that are not related to vocal technique but are more on how to make the words sound better.”  

Surprisingly, Janowski had not heard of opera music until her late high school years, but as fate had it,  her voice fits beautifully with the opera style of music.

“I had listened to a ton of different types of music, and I found out that my voice worked really well with opera,” Janowski said. “I have always liked classical music, but I found that with opera, I was attracted to the virtuosity of it. You can be singing crazy high and crazy low with tons of runs long notes; it is a very high level of singing. It is really fun to work towards that.”

The hardest piece Janowski is working on is “Una voce poco fa” by Rossini from the Barber of Seville.

“There is a lot of coloratura, which means a lot of really fast runs,”  Janowski said. “[There are] lots of 15 and 32nd notes; it also goes high. It is over a two-octave range, so I sing a low-G as well as a high B natural. Depending on which ornaments—which additions I do to it—I might sing a high C sharp. So, it’s a very, very large range; a lot of notes, and it is long.” 

Janowski has a tremendous amount of talent as well as a beautiful voice; she wants to continue doing opera as well as teaching students to use their own voice and find where they belong in the music world.  

 “[I love] seeing the potential in each student, trying to find that gift that each student has to make music, and collectively bringing all of those gifts together to make something awesome,” Janowski said. “And, to contribute to the rest of the school and the Grand Rapids area.”