Nikola Printz On Singing Without A Net (Literally!)

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Singing opera is a notoriously physically demanding skill. The muscular coordination required to sing a pitch accurately and sheer exertion needed to produce the volume needed to fill a large hall is not unlike power lifting while walking a tightrope. So imagine the effort and skill required to sing opera while also swinging from a trapeze in mid-air. That’s exactly the daunting challenge mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz imagined when she first considered becoming an opera singing aerialist. 

Shortly after Nikola’s 2016 West Edge Opera performance as The Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen, she began her residency in Tennessee. There she learned of High Expectations, a local aerialist company that would collaborate with Opera Memphis to create performances involving aerialists and opera singers. As a skilled dancer and athlete herself, she wondered if it would be possible to do both simultaneously.

She began taking lessons with the troupe, and though at first she barely managed to eke out a pull up, eventually she was feeling comfortable enough in the air to start making sounds besides occasional gasps of effort. After a year of training, she began planning her debut as an operatic aerialist at the Midtown Opera Festival in 2018. True to her nature, this would be no seductive Carmen Habanera or coquettish Mozart aria. This performance would be a blood spattered Salome swinging dementedly in the air, complete with severed head at her feet.

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One thing that Printz found surprising was that singing upside down was actually easier for her than singing upright. She believes this is because being suspended naturally aligns the spine and the airway, an alignment that usually takes effort from core muscles. Transitions, however, moving from one suspended position to another, requires a huge effort from core muscles, as well as limbs. Getting the voice to function properly during these transitions is the hardest part of singing while suspended, and Printz takes great care while choreographing her routines (did we mention that she choreographs these routines? She does.) to time these transitions at appropriate places in the music.

Being an opera singing aerialist is the sort of added skill that can drive a director giddy with the theatrical possibilities. We haven’t yet heard if director KJ Dahlaw has something in mind for Nikola when she plays Orfeo in this year’s West Edge Festival, but we can certainly hope. In the meantime Nikola will be performing in the Bay Area with the After Everything ensemble on May 18th. Series tickets for West Edge Opera’s festival are available here.

Brian Rosenorfeo