A Broadway fusion like no other

The operatic soprano Alyson Cambridge makes her Broadway debut this month in the musical extravaganza "Rocktopia." Photo: Olivia Rae James.
The operatic soprano Alyson Cambridge will rock out in her Great White Way debut

“Rocktopia,” now in previews, begins a limited six-week engagement on Broadway March 27. Created by Broadway veteran Rob Evan and conductor Randall Craig Fleischer, the rule-busting extravaganza features state-of-the art lighting and video projections. The New York Contemporary Symphony Orchestra and a choir will be performing with a rock band at the Broadway Theatre. The soprano and Upper West Sider Alyson Cambridge, who makes her Broadway debut in the extravaganza, shared some thoughts about the show.

Tell us what comes to mind when you hear “Rocktopia”?

Well, first it is a unique and an original creation thanks to creators Rob Evan and Randy Fleischer. “Rocktopia” is really a classical revolution — it is the amazing fusion between the classical: Puccini, Mozart, Handel, Beethoven and rock classics: everything from Led Zeppelin to Queen to Pink Floyd to Elton John. It is the combining of these two musical worlds in a symbiotic way that’s never been done before. You can be singing an aria one moment and then can be rockin’ out to a song in the next minute ... this is my first time with the production. I had never heard anything like “Rocktopia” before. It’s a special show!

As a classically trained opera star what songs will you sing in your Broadway debut in “Rocktopia”?

I sing Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga,” which then gets mashed up with Tony Vincent singing Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” I do Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” and “Quando men vo” with Rob Evan, “Ode to Joy,” “Something,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”.... It’s quite the mix of songs!

Will you be singing R&B and rock? What other voices and music might we hear and know?

I definitely get to exercise my rock chops a bit in this show, R&B not as much. My role in this show is really to be the featured operatic female voice, in contrast to the rock voices (of Chloe Lowery and Kimberly Nichole), but it’s fun when I get to use the other parts of my voice as well!

What sort of training did you have to do for this show in order to step out of classic mode?

Even though the majority of my career has been operatic and classically based, I grew up loving and singing other styles. In 2016, I released a crossover/jazz/pop album called “Until Now,” and in preparing for that I coached with pianists and teachers who were based on those genres, so I have developed similar but different techniques for the different vocal styles required of me in “Rocktopia.”

How did this extravaganza come about and how did you assume the role of one of five world class vocalists in this epic concert experience?

About three years ago, I worked with a wonderful conductor, composer and arranger, Kim Scharnberg. We had performed at the Ford’s Theater gala in Washington, D.C., and had a wonderful experience working together. He heard me sing an aria and I did a Beyoncé tune and he thought ... “Wait a minute, here’s a girl who is from the opera world who is actually well versed in the pop world and she might be a great fit for this project” so then I was introduced to the rest of the team. I auditioned for them a few months ago and it all came to fruition and here I am. Rob Evan, one of the creators of “Rocktopia” and I also sang at Kim’s wedding!

“Rocktopia” brings your voice to the greatest classical music fused with the most amazing classic rock songs of the past century. What do you think the audience will feel and hear during this live experience?

I think they are going to love the variety and be really surprised. It combines so many different genres of music, styles, composers and bands from Puccini to Beethoven, to Queen to Pink Floyd. Bach, Beethoven and Puccini were the rock stars of their day, so this is about translating them into the modern times along with the rock stars who are their contemporaries today and so you have passion that’s natural in classical music and you still feel it in today’s popular and rock music and so this fusion makes sense and works incredibly well together. I think what audiences are really going to like about this show is that there is something for everybody. You may come in having no experience hearing an opera before or an opera aria and be surprised how you’re transported into another rock song and the fusion together is, I believe, going to blow audiences away.

With no language barriers or story line to “Rocktopia,” what do you hope the show conveys to the audience and living on the West Side and a principal artist with the Met Opera for over the course of eight seasons do you see this crossover show as making opera hip?

“Rocktopia,” for me, is all about changing lanes. I’ve always wanted to sing and perform in different genres. I am thrilled, honored, loving every chance I get to change people’s perceptions of opera. I want people to see that opera and classical music are cool, sexy, fun and powerful. There are no language barriers. It’s all about the music. And I think Broadway is the perfect place for “Rocktopia” because it’s going to bring in a new audience that is hearing some of these classical tunes and arias.

What sort of voice warm ups will you do different for your performance in “Rocktopia” verses at The Met?

My warm-up routines, I think, are quite similar to many singers ... lip trills throughout my range to start, then vowels in mid-range, gradually progressing to scales and other exercises that easily and healthily “stretch” my full range in both directions. This show demands a lot of me vocally in several different ways, so a proper warm up is paramount. As for food/drink pre-show — I’m unconventional in that I don’t drink tea, I actually drink lots of coffee and religiously have either a tuna and spinach sandwich on gluten-free bread or a tuna sushi roll with brown rice ... and a banana! This has been my “pre-game” ritual since college!!!

What is self-preparation for Broadway like?

Practice, practice, practice. Working on Broadway is not only about crazy talent, but also about endurance. In opera, we typically have several days between performances. On Broadway, we have 8 shows a week! So, for me, it was about not only keeping my operatic range stretched and diverse, but also on a consistently high level 24/7. There is no down time.... it’s all about endurance — and sounding great!

Some advice for young aspiring opera singers?

For young singers, I think there are a couple things to always keep in mind: besides working hard and practice – one should get used to hearing “no.” You will hear it more than “yes.” Perseverance is key, so stay strong. Be on time and always professional and always be a good colleague. You have to truly love what you do. If you don’t, it is hard to stay engaged and enthused.... But when you do the reward is sooooo great.