Gianna Rolandi (born August 16, 1952) is an American soprano. Following a highly successful 20-year national and international operatic career, Rolandi retired from performing in 1994, and served as director of and principal instructor at the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, formerly known as Lyric Opera Center for American Artists until 2013.
Gianna Rolandi was born in New York City, and grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Her mother, Jane Frazier, was an American soprano, and met her father, Italian obstetrician-gynecologist Enrico Rolandi, while singing in Italy. Rolandi's father died in a car accident on Long Island when she was three, and the family moved back to the Carolinas, her mother's home. Rolandi's mother taught voice at Converse College in Spartanburg, and later became a staff member of the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina. She remarried in 1959 to John West Coker, chairman of the Music Department at Wofford College in Spartanburg, and a staff member of the Brevard Music Center.
Rolandi started out as a violinist, at the age of 6, yet remembers that "when there was nobody home, I'd turn on opera records and sing along with Tosca and Madama Butterfly." By the late 1960s she was studying violin at the Brevard Music Center, and she attended the North Carolina School of the Arts as a violin major in her senior year of high school. She took her first voice lessons at the Brevard Music Center, and continued a long association with the Center, where many of her coloratura roles were learned and first performed.
The soprano then trained for four years at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She was a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera auditions in 1974, winning the Minna Kaufmann Ruud Competition as one of the youngest winners in its history. She graduated from the Curtis Institute in 1975.
Debut at New York City Opera
Rolandi landed a contract with the New York City Opera in 1975, before graduating from the Curtis Institute that same year. Her operatic debut, at NYCO, was as Olympia in Les contes d'Hoffmann and as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, for both of which she received critical acclaim. While in New York, Rolandi studied singing with Ellen Faull.
Appearing regularly with the City Opera since her debut, Rolandi moved beyond soubrette roles in operettas, and was a leading coloratura soprano at the NYCO for the next 15 years, singing more than 30 operatic roles, including I puritani, La traviata, La fille du régiment, Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, The Cunning Little Vixen, Lakmé, and Giulio Cesare.
In her early years at the NYCO, Rolandi was able to establish her career firmly without needing to go abroad. In 1982 she said, "I feel like I've grown up here.... The City Opera is a blessing for me, as it is for lots of young singers. You get exposure and you don't have to leave home."
Renowned soprano Beverly Sills, General Director of the New York City Opera, influenced Rolandi greatly. Sills said of Rolandi in 1981, "Gianna epitomizes all the things I want to see the City Opera stand for." Rolandi's repertory included many of the retired Sills' most famous roles. "Beverly's door is always open," Rolandi stated in 1982. "It's wonderful to have someone who's sung all these roles and to ask her how she solved certain problems."
Metropolitan Opera and beyond
In 1979, Rolandi made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. At the Met she also sang Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann in 1983, the title role of Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol in 1984 (broadcast internationally), and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos in 1984/85 (broadcast internationally).
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago she made her debut as Dorinda in Handel's Orlando (1986), and returned to sing Despina in Così fan tutte (1993–94), a production that marked her retirement from the stage.
Rolandi also performed with many of the other major North American opera companies, including the San Francisco Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, the Washington National Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC.
She debuted in Europe in 1981 at Glyndebourne as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, returning in 1984 for her first performances of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Zdenka in Arabella, to critical acclaim. Other major European engagements included Ginevra in Ariodante and Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare in Geneva, Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail in Lyon and Paris, Almirena in Rinaldo at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Amenaide in Tancredi in Turin, the breeches role of Curiatius in Gli Orazi e i Curiazi in Rome, and Elcia in Mosè in Egitto at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy.
Rolandi recorded Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro under Bernard Haitink. On television, she was the title role in two Live from Lincoln Center opera broadcasts: Lucia di Lammermoor (1982) and The Cunning Little Vixen (1983), and she was Clorinda in an English-language version of La Cenerentola (1980). And she was Zdenka in the 1984 film version of Arabella, in the Glyndebourne production.
Rolandi's concert and recital engagements included appearances with the various major ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic, with conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Davis, Bernard Haitink, Erich Leinsdorf, and James Levine.
Directorship at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Following her retirement from vocal performance in 1994, Rolandi has devoted herself to pedagogy and administration. She became Director of Vocal Studies for the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Opera Center and its Lyric Opera Center for American Artists (LOCAA) in May 2002, and was then named Director of the Ryan Opera Center and the LOCAA in 2006, succeeding Richard Pearlman upon his death.
The LOCAA, founded in 1973, is the professional artist-development program for Lyric Opera of Chicago. LOCAA is considered one of the most prestigious vocal programs in America, and has produced many notable singers. Each year a dozen young singers are selected from the 500 who audition annually, and the selectees are in residence for twelve months, receiving an intensive regimen of advanced instruction, master classes, live performances, and even performance in Chicago Lyric's mainstage season operas.
Upon Rolandi's appointment as director, William Mason, General Director of Lyric Opera, said, "Gianna has been part of the decision-making process since coming to Lyric. No one understands the program and how it functions better than she. Richard raised the level of the opera center a great deal, and then Gianna took it up another notch. She's a great colleague, and the [young singers] are very fond of her." Mason continued, "She brings her personal experience as a singer to the program, and has proven herself to be a superb teacher. Many of the young singers she has worked with have already launched distinguished careers."
As director of the LOCAA, Rolandi oversees all aspects of the center's activities and operations, including traveling to all auditions; selecting the dozen participants each year; overseeing each artist's vocal and artistic development; selecting guest teachers and resident faculty; planning concert engagements and recitals; and working closely with Lyric Opera of Chicago to cast LOCAA members for Lyric Opera's mainstage season. Rolandi also oversees the company's educational outreach programs, "Opera in the Neighborhoods" and "Meet the Artists."
Of her participation in the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, Rolandi says,
- I really enjoy LOCAA because you have the cream of the crop here. Everything they go through, I have been through. The first thing I want to pass on to them is how to do it. I was fortunate to have a solid technique and could sing standing on my head if I had to, and that's what I want for them—an easy production.... Kids this age have to be careful; they all want to sound like Brunnhildes. Having been a coloratura, I know it is possible to be heard in big houses without screaming your guts out. I want them to develop patience and a real sense of self-confidence, so they can stand up for what they believe in musically and not be pushed around. That's so important in this field; you can have four sessions with four different coaches and they will all tell you something different. You have to learn how to make something your own, and how to tell somebody that's the way you do it. I want them to be unique.
Rolandi retired as director after the 2012/2013 season.
Rolandi became acquainted with conductor Andrew Davis when he conducted her performances of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, both at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984 and again at Glyndebourne in 1988. They married in 1989, and lived in England until 2000, when Davis was appointed the music director and principal conductor of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. They now live in Chicago, where Rolandi is director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Opera Center and the LOCAA. Since Sir Andrew Davis's knighthood in 1999, Rolandi may be referred to as Lady Davis.
- Duffie, Bruce. "Conversation Piece: Soprano Gianna Rolandi." (1993) The Opera Journal. 1995.
- "Soprano Gianna Rolandi Shifts into High Gear on Her Road to Becoming the Next Queen of the High C's." People. September 14, 1981.
- Croan, Robert. "When It Comes to Singers, PSO Artistic Adviser Needn't Look Far for Artistic Advice: Lady Gianna." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 02, 2006.
- 1975 Brevard Music Festival Program Book. p. 31.
- Basse, Craig. Obituary: John Coker. St. Petersburg Times. June 20, 2001. See also: 1959 Brevard Music Festival Program Book p. 32; 1968 Brevard Music Festival Program Book p. 27; "Coker Family of Alabama" Ancestry.com.
- Curtis Institute of Music: Performance Chronology 1929 - 2006
- Anderson, Susan Heller. "'Lucia,' Live from Gianna Rolandi." New York Times. April 9, 1982.
- Tommasini, Anthony. "City Opera Pays Tribute to Sills With a Comic ’50s Cinderella." New York Times. October 29, 2007.
- Ketterson, Mark Thomas. "Lyric Opera Center for American Artists Trains the Opera Singers of the Future." usOperaweb. Autumn 2003.
- Midgette, Anne. "The End of the Great Big American Voice." New York Times. November 13, 2005.
- "Gianna Rolandi Named as New Lyric Opera Center for American Artists Director." Opera News. May 09, 2006.
- The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center – Lyric Opera of Chicago
- Von Rhein, John. "Lyric Opera's Rolandi to Oversee Training Center." Chicago Tribune. May 9, 2006.
- Press release from Lyric Opera Center for American Artists (May 9, 2006)
- Gianna Rolandi at the Internet Movie Database
- Fortissimo: Backstage at the Opera with Sacred Monsters and Young Singers, by William Murray, 2006. A study of a year in the life of an entering class at Lyric Opera Center for American Artists.