Alicia Berneche

Alicia Berneche, soprano, actress, teacher, writer

Alicia Berneche has sung on stages around the globe, bringing to them a unique, beautifully produced sound, an extraordinary acting talent, and an exquisite musicality. Often specializing in contemporary works, she appeared on the stages of the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, along with essaying Helen Niles in the new edition of Mourning Becomes Electra by Marvin David Levy, and appearing at The Goodman Theatre, The Barbican, and BAM in the world premiere of Philip Glass’ and Mary Zimmerman’s Galileo Galilei. She has also sung with celebrated conductors and ensembles, including Carmina Burana with the Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä and Le nozze di Figaro under Zubin Mehta. 

 Tom Strini, Third Coast Digest, Sept. 2011

What a cast of singing comedians Bill Theisen assembled for this premiere! Alicia Berneche (Lydia) plays the dreamy ingenue opposite Jack Absolute, and Katherine M. Pracht (Julia) plays the exasperated one opposite the maddeningly melancholy Nick Astor. Berneche and Pracht also play close cousins, and the way they lounge about together makes it easy to imagine them as little girls tumbling down together for their naps. They were sweet, funny, and in superb voice throughout the opera. 

 

Elaine Schmidt, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Sept. 2011

Alicia Berneche brought strong, polished vocals and wide-eyed innocence to the Lydia Larkspur role, opposite Christopher Burchett's warmly sung and charismatically delivered Jack Absolute. 

 

Rick Walters, Milwaukee Express Sept. 2011

Alicia Berneche brings Lydia to life with spontaneous, playful spirit. Few sopranos have her comedic gifts. 

 

Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle, April 2010

One thing I've always liked about this particular fairy tale is that the kids don't have to be rescued by some grownup (I'm looking at you, Red Riding Hood) but control their fate themselves. Here, Adriana Zabala's Hansel and Alicia Berneche's Gretel come across as strong and resourceful enough to save their own bacon, as it were. (They also convey convincingly that alternating friction and affection between siblings.)  

 

Steven Brown, Charlotte Observer, May, 2011

Alicia Berneche's vibrant tones and spunky demeanor leave no doubt that Josephine - the "lass that loved a sailor" of the show's subtitle - won't let an arranged marriage come between her and her sweetheart, Ralph. 

 

Betsy Turovitz Splash Magazine, Oct. 2012

Alicia Berneche, a powerhouse soprano with a quite an amazing vocal range, sings a stirring rendition of “Vilia” from “The Merry Widow” by Franz Lehar.  

 

 Lindsay Christians, The Capitol Times, Feb. 2011

Polly, Alicia Berneche swoons over Mack, but she fights for him in the funny (if over-staged) "Jealousy Duet." The best singer in the bunch, Berneche plays the pouting child, a jealous wife and a diva, with a lively song on "the importance of staying perpendicular."

Die Fledermaus, or The Bat, Austin Lyric Opera, May and June 2008

Then there's Adela, the Steiners' maid who hungers for Tinseltown stardom; as played by Alicia Berneche, she's a kind of Latina Lucy, delightfully animated and funny as she chases big dreams with unlikely schemes. It's conceivable that these performers would be just as much fun to watch if they were playing this out in 19th century Vienna, but it sure feels like the Austin setting has sparked something special in their work...

Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle

 

Così fan tutte, Sarasota Opera, March and April 2008

Alicia Berneche was fun as the spunky, know-it-all Despina.

John Fleming, Opera News

 

...but it was Alicia Berneche who really made things move as a bright and witty Despina.

Wes Blomster, Opera Today

 

Basso-buffo Stephen Eisenhard, the sly and mischievous Don Alfonso, matches up once again with soprano Alicia Berneche as the scene-stealing Despina. Whether as the sassy, “been-around-the block” chambermaid or disguised as the doctor or notary singing in special voices, it is hard to imagine a better portrayal on any stage than that which Berneche delivered. Tears flowed with the laughter when her doctor healed the Albanians with Mesmer’s magnet.

Gayle Williams, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

 

Die Fledermaus, Orlando Opera, February 2008

Alicia Berneche as spunky Adele offers the production’s breakout performance. She has stage presence and a booming voice - a one two punch.

K.J. Roberts, ArtsBlog Orlando

 

Gilbert and Sullivan à la Carte, Sarasota Asolo Theatre, January 2008

Who could have imagined that a lyrical and touching performance of that beloved old chestnut, "The Lost Chord," would be the highlight of a program celebrating the joys and sorrows of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership? ...All three singers had excellent command of the music and nearly seamless British accents... Berneche, overall muse and supple soprano, was simply superb, not least in that heart-stopping rendition of "The Lost Chord."

Richard Storm, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

 

The Pirates of Penzance, Virginia Opera, November and December 2007

Alicia Berneche, whose Mabel was a charmer in gesture and song. The soprano took full advantage of coloratura flurries along the way, revealing a bright, supple voice.

Tim Smith, Opera News

 

The cast was youngish, likable and mostly strong. Alicia Berneche (Mabel) was lovely and poised, and displayed a crisp, effortless coloratura…"Stay, Fred'ric, stay," the Act II duet between the lovers, was the vocal high point of the evening.

Robert Battey, Washington Post

 

Mabel, is the girl Frederic is smitten with. .The attractive Alicia Berneche with her clear, highly pleasing soprano, and talent for finding fun in musical ornamentation and other soprano antics, makes it easy to see why.

Edgar Loessin, Loessin at Large, WHRO

 

Bittersweet, Light Opera Works, August, 2007

"I'll See You Again" is justly famed and amply rewarding here. But listening to Alicia Berneche's gorgeous rendition of "Zigeuner" on Sunday afternoon was enough to make one ponder the multifarious talents of this most confounding and self-obfuscating of artists (Coward, I mean; not Berneche, who is as pleasing in her honesty as in the sophistication of her singing)...Mercifully, Harms wrestles the show to port in the third act and Berneche's singing sets down an anchor.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

 

...but it is soprano Alicia Berneche, best remembered for her Lyric Opera portrayal of Daisy alongside the recently departed Jerry Hadley in "The Great Gatsby," who steals the show with singing and acting that movingly spans generations (think if old and young Rose in "Titanic" could sing her heart out).

Denis Polkow, New City

 

Tartuffe, Skylight Opera, January 2007

Berneche - who seems to get younger and more adorable every time she shows up at the Skylight - grieved the loss of Mariane's marriage hopes in extravagant, Romantic music and romance-novel language...That episode set up a contrast with Berneche's later aria. In that one, she asks her father, Orgon, to let her marry the one she loves. Berneche sang it with heartbreaking sincerity and simplicity.

Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

 

Alicia Berneche is quite brilliant as his daughter Mariane. The scene between the two of them when he asks her to marry Tartuffe is one of the most memorable in the entire production. A lot of its strength rests quite squarely in the anxiety pouring out of Berneche as she directly faces the audience in not so subtle reaction to what her father is asking of her. Berneche’s voice is beautiful, but it’s the rest of her performance that beautifully rounds out a role that isn’t nearly as impressive in previous non-musical productions.

Russ Bickerstaff, Vital Source

 

From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, CUBE Ensemble, May 2006

The ensemble has also been exploring Pulitzer Prize-winning works this season, and Dominick Argento's "From the Diary of Virginia Woolf" from 1975 neatly joined both missions. The Pulitzer board has rightly been the butt of jokes among musicians, but this cycle of eight songs has fared far better than most. The radiant soprano Alicia Berneche's utterly committed and probing reading gave full venting to the songs' ambivalence, and pianist Philip Morehead lent cohesion and context to these mischievous musings.

Michael Cameron, Chicago Tribune

 

Le nozze di Figaro, Austin Lyric Opera, May 2005

If the title implies it's Figaro running the show, in reality, it's his fiancée, Susanna, who appears to have her eyes more fixed on the prize(s). In that role, Alicia Berneche was perfection. Bright and full of vigor, Berneche is as good an actor as she is a singer, her performance nuanced and heartfelt, yet full of panache and zing during all those farcical interludes. When finally she had the chance to sing of her love for Figaro – to her hidden husband, no less – out came her glorious "Deh vieni, non tardar." Bring this soprano back soon, please, Maestro Buckley.

Robi Polgar, Austin Chronicle

 

Carmina Burana, Honolulu Symphony, April, 2004

Alicia Berneche's soprano is clean and warm, she held quiet but commanding notes forever, creating a virtual chamber orchestra in her throat.

Janos Gerebin, San Francisco Classical Voice

 

Counterpoise and Goblin Market, Chicago Chamber Musicians, May 10, 2004

A few seasons ago, Berneche made a brilliant success of an unenviable job at Lyric Opera of Chicago, substituting for Dawn Upshaw in the role of Daisy in John Harbison's setting of "The Great Gatsby.'' Upshaw gave the world premiere of "Counterpoise,'' but the bright, strong soprano and vivid persona that made Berneche's Daisy so memorable was amply displayed in both Dickinson's and Apollinaire's poetry.

 

 Girlishly exultant in Druckman's setting of Dickinson's "I taste a liquor never brewed,'' she soared away from the low-lying cello and percussion like an exotically colored bird. But in Apollinaire's "Salome,'' against the often raucous, queasy sway of woodwinds and violin, her youthful voice was haunted by shaky pride, regret and finally, the frightening acknowledgment of sin.

 

 Kernis' "Goblin Market,'' which the composer conducted, is an ambitious work for five winds, horn, trumpet, a varied percussion battery, piano and strings. At times the dense, supercharged ensemble overwhelmed Berneche's amplified spoken voice. But she was an engrossing storyteller, bringing to life Rossetti's images of seductive goblins luring two young beauties to taste their succulent, poisonous fruits.

Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times 

 

For much of its length, the score teems with pictorially suggestive activity as creepy and riotous as the goblins it depicts. For the 1995 premiere in Birmingham, England, the piece used a mime and puppet theater. Monday's Chicago premiere had no stage pictures, although Alicia Berneche made such a delectably involved storyteller (her crisp British English amplified so that it could carry over Kernis' noisy ensemble) that it hardly mattered.

 

Berneche also brought her pure, rainwater-fresh soprano to Druckman's "Counterpoise," his last major work, written shortly before his untimely death in 1996.

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

 

The Great Gatsby, Lyric Opera of Chicago, November 2000

As Daisy Buchanan, Alicia Berneche was a brighter, more fragile presence, lacking Upshaw's lurking intelligence, which arguably, made her (Berneche) better suited to the character. Berneche was effective in Daisy's aria, "Where is the old warm world?," and in the first-act duet with Jordan Baker (Patricia Risley), "Soon it will be the longest day of the year," evoking the jazz-age smart set's bored decadence with subtle precision.

Lawrence Johnson, Opera News

 

... an opulent and pretty lyric soprano

Heidi Waleson, Opera Now

 

But no one need apologize for Alicia Berneche, who has taken over as Lyric's Daisy. An Alumna of the company's Center for American Artists, she matches both Daisy's age and physique-slim, blonde and fetching in her chic flapper chemises (by costume designer Jane Greenwood). Her bright, clear soprano carried a nice mixture of a young beauty's brittle self-absorption and a woman's emerging vulnerability.

Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

 

Soprano Alicia Berneche, stepping in for Dawn Upshaw, who is suffering from "vocal exhaustion," sang Daisy brightly and with assurance, put over every syllable of the text, and created an exceptional characterization of this maddening, self-absorbed yet charismatic creature. The brief scene with her daughter in which she is surprised, delighted, and horrified by a display of spontaneous affection was an extraordinary piece of acting.

Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

 

Cosi fan tutte, Opera Pacific, January, 2004

Alicia Berneche made her company debut as a sparkplug, galvanizing Despina…

LA Times

 

 ...Alicia Berneche, a scene-stealer to the manner born, in the great theft-worthy role of Despina.

LA Weekly

 

Lucia di Lammermoor, Skylight Opera of Milwaukee, January, 2001

Her sound is powerful and bright - brilliant in high coloratura - but, never edgy. She is willing to let that sound breakdown when she feels it serves the character; the last note of the famous mad-scene aria was an unnerving, semi-pitched moan. She made a fierce, physical Lucia who does not so much wilt away for lost love as burst into madness out of the sheer frustration of thwarted desire. An electrifying sense of risk charged Berneche's performances.

Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

Werther, Portland Opera, November, 1999

Portland newcomer Alicia Berneche sang Sophie with a girlish soprano that sounded fresh and full of character.

David Stabler, Opera News

 

Dialogues des Carmelites, Portland Opera, March, 2001

As the ebullient Sister Constance, Alicia Berneche was vocally satisfying and unusually thoughtful - no chirping air head. Her conversations with Blanche, placed right at the footlights, were intimate and involving.

Mark Mandel, Opera News

 

Alicia Berneche was the vivacious Sister Constance, Blanche's alter ego. Berneche's buoyant voice reached the highest notes with ease and clarity.

James Bash, Opera

 

 

Cosi Fan Tutte, Sarasota Opera, January, 2002

Things picked up considerably with the entrance of Alicia Berneche as Despina. The soprano's delightful stage presence and agile vocalism made for a deliciously feisty performance. She seemed to spark her colleagues, whose performances gained in vocal distinction and momentum thereafter.

Lawrence A. Johnson, Opera News

 

Mozart and Da Ponte poured the best of their comedy into the character Despina, played here by soprano Alicia Berneche. From the moment she steps on stage we can enjoy her punkish, streetwise attitude. Readily voicing her opinion, the servant Despina coaches her cloistered charges in all manners of the world. Alonso finds a ready co-conspirator in Despina and she is quick to take on disguises to lead the two girls astray. Her first is that of the doctor brought in to cure the Albanians who have taken poison as a result of the girls’ rejections. The second is that of the notary public called to perform a fake marriage ceremony when the girls agree to marry the Albanians. Bern ache has an elastic voice suited to the saucy demands of her role and the altered voices used for the doctor and notary and is able to send it out full force.

Gayle Williams, The Longboat Observer

 

For once there was not a weak link in the cast. Alicia Berneche delivered appropriately shudder-making squawks when Despina becomes Doctor or Lawyer.

Tom Rosenthal, Opera Now

 

Galileo Galilei, Goodman Theatre, BAM, and the Barbican, 2002

Much of the vocal writing is familiar Glassian declamation, but there are some sweetly lyrical touches, too, including a lovely aria for Galileo's daughter, sung affectingly by Alicia Berneche.

Allan Kozin, New York Times

 

Alicia Berneche's shimmering soprano and fine acting skills helped create a touching portrayal of the older Maria Celeste (Galileo's daughter) as well as Maria de'Medici.

William Shackelford, Opera Magazine

 

Give him a female voice to write for--especially a pungent and vibrant charmer like Alicia Berneche, as the daughter--and he can almost beguile…only Berneche consistently breaks through to make us aware that these characters have hearts as well as brains.

Geoff Brown, London Times

The large cast is headed by John Duykers as the aged Galileo and Alicia Berneche as Maria Celeste. Both sang radiantly.

Dan Zeff, Copley News Service

 

Gerckens' lighting is particularly evocative in a dreamlike sequence in which Galileo escapes a winter storm to enjoy the warmth of a spring sun with his daughter (a clear-voiced Alicia Berneche).

Jenn Q. Goddu, Digital City

 

The Goodman has brought together a world-class assemblage of powerful voices to bring the story to life, including the afore-mentioned Duykers, Eugene Perry as the young Galileo, Elizabeth Reiter's heartbreaking clear voice as the young Maria Celeste, and Alicia Berneche's breathtaking turn as the elder version of Galileo's daughter.

Rick Reed

 

The music takes a sudden, markedly warmer turn at a crucial point in the opera, a scene between Galileo and his illegitimate but nonetheless beloved elder daughter, Maria Celeste. Soprano Alicia Berneche, who has had great success at Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theatre, drew an extended ovation for an aria built around the spare beauty of the prose in actual letters from daughter to father.

 

Berneche sang with a lustrous warmth beyond anything she's managed at the Skylight. The affecting words, tender relationship and Glass' unexpected melodic facility gave her the chance to touch the audience, and Berneche won their love. Instead of just another instrument in the orchestra, her voice was cast as virtuosa over accompaniment.

Tom Strini, Journal Sentinel

 

Alicia Berneche, charming as Daisy Buchanan in Lyric Opera's recent production of "The Great Gatsby," brought a bright, agile soprano to the role of the older Maria Celeste.

Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

 

Yet Zimmerman's best scenes are the least musically interesting. And, similarly, Glass' best work (much of which involves Marie Celeste, a role beautifully sung by young Alicia Berneche) comes when Zimmerman appears the least involved.

Chris Jones, Variety

 

Articles about Alicia Berneche:

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Oct. 6, 2000, Tom Strini:

Singer Makes the Most of Her Opportunity

Soprano Alicia Berneche emerged for her curtain call Monday evening to a rousing burst of applause, after playing Daisy in John Harbison's "The Great Gatsby" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Patrons of Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theatre will not be surprised at Berneche's success in the big house in the big city to our south. She's been brilliant as Josephine in "H.M.S. Pinafore" and as Mag/Cissie in the premiere of Richard Wargo's "Ballymore." In February, she will return to the Skylight to play the title role in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."

Berneche, a recent graduate of the Lyric's apprentice program, was engaged to understudy Dawn Upshaw as Gatsby's love interest. Upshaw, a major international star, created Daisy at the Metropolitan Opera premiere last year.

Upshaw had to rest her voice this summer, to recover from a bruised vocal cord. On Sept. 2, three days before rehearsals began, Berneche was told that she would sing the first week of rehearsals to allow Upshaw more recovery time. On Sept. 6, she was told that she would sing the second week. On Sept. 19, Upshaw bowed out and Berneche was given all nine performances.

"I'd been rehearsing with the cast for two weeks, at that point," Berneche said, in a phone interview the day after opening night. "I'd begun to feel that it was mine. It would have been disappointing not to do it, although I was looking forward to working with Dawn Upshaw. I love her singing. Oh - she sent me roses on opening night! Is that a great colleague, or what?

"The first day of rehearsal was more of a test than opening night. That's when you have to prove it to your colleagues, director and music director."

Berneche, a cheerful charmer with nerves of steel, was not intimidated, not by the prospect of a major role in the second-most important American opera house, not by a superb cast headed by veteran Jerry Hadley, not by composer Harbison or Mark Lamos.

"We knew Dawn was having trouble, and we were concerned," Harbison said. "It took about a half-hour of Alicia to know that everything would be fine."

Berneche, of Kokomo, Ind., is a dream for a composer and a director. She studied violin for 12 years; she actually prefers to do new music. And she takes acting very seriously.

"I do new music all the time," she said. "Each composer has his own sound. Once you get that sonority in your head, it's easy. I gave up music theory for Lent years ago; my ear does it for me. With John - who is a really nice man, by the way - you begin to hear the patterns in his clusters of tones and then you begin to hear your note within those clusters. And I always learn my part alone, by rote, so that I can sing it if a hurricane is going on around me."

Berneche started out to be a straight actress and appeared in many plays in college. She studied Method acting and works hard to fully inhabit a role. Flighty, unhappy, conflicted, idle Daisy is nothing at all like Berneche, but on stage she becomes Daisy.

"It's an easy sing, although a lot of it is below the staff, and I don't really have that strong of a bottom voice," she said of the role. "The hardest part is the emotions seeping into the Plaza scene, where Daisy has to choose between Gatsby and her husband. It was hard to stop from crying, and if that happens, the voice would crack."

It did not crack Monday. Berneche's bright voice carried the big hall easily. So did her acting, which was both subtle in shading and large in scale. "Gatsby" should be a major step in her career.

"I don't sing in big houses often, but I work a lot," she said. "I like my career the way it is. American opera is a noble cause; we have a voice in this country, in jazz, music theater, rock 'n' roll. Just because it doesn't sound like Puccini doesn't mean it's not valid. I love cutting-edge work and love creating roles. Besides, when you do a new opera, no one says, 'Well, when Callas did it . . . "

 

Lighting up the Skylight:

Rising star Alicia Berneche to tackle classic role

By TOM STRINI

 Journal Sentinel music critic

Alicia Berneche laughed off the idea that she is the Sweetheart of the Skylight.

But there's no laughing off her string of brilliant performances in Milwaukee with the Skylight Opera Theatre. She was a sparkling Josephine in "H.M.S. Pinafore" last January; the cool object of desire in the "Seduction of a Lady" episode of Richard Wargo's "A Chekhov Trilogy" in March of 1998; insidiously funny as the pious and gossipy Cissie Cassidy in "Losers," the second half of Richard Wargo's "Ballymore," in early 1999; and an irresistible Mag in "Winners," the first part of "Ballymore."

Mag carried the otherwise shaky "Winners," and Berneche's exuberance in the role made the young soprano someone special in Milwaukee. But she could top even that performance Friday, when she takes on the title role in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" at the Skylight.

The Skylight is an ensemble house rather than a star house, and Berneche's outstanding prior performances came in the context of ensemble shows. "Lucia" is a star vehicle. The score is loaded with virtuoso coloratura, and the intensely Romantic and tragic role peaks with a famous mad scene. The legendary Maria Callas is credited with bringing the role and the opera to a new level of seriousness, and every lyric soprano since has been measured against her.

Berneche, who has sung the role in concert but never in a fully staged version, has been listening to Callas' 1955 version and to Edita Gruberova's 1991 recording. But she won't copy them; one lesson she has learned at the Skylight is to be herself.

"I no longer feel that I have to be someone else," she said in an interview before rehearsal. "When I was younger, I tried to force myself into that box, and it caused undue stress. My Lucia will crawl around a table licking knives - I don't think Callas would have done that! It's pretty fun - not your average Lucia."

Berneche's flat-out physicality is one reason stage directors love her. Many singers resist any action that might impede vocal production.

"She's fearless," said Richard Carsey, the Skylight's artistic director. "She's an actress - an actress. 'Ballymore' really showed it - she was jumping around that grassy hill constantly, throwing herself on her back and hitting high Cs. She never says no; maybe she just doesn't know that it's supposed to be hard."

Beyond that, Berneche's musicianship has impressed Carsey, a conductor-pianist by trade. She learns music quickly and on her own; many singers must have notes piano-pounded into their ears.

Carsey also spoke of Berneche's incredible character range. Her roles at the Skylight have been an aristocratic Russian, a fluttery English ingenue, a chatterbox Irish schoolgirl pregnant out of wedlock, a snippy pious Irish schoolgirl, and now Lucia, doomed to descend into madness and death as a result of a loveless arranged marriage.

'Gatsby' a turning point

 She is best known outside Milwaukee for playing languid, sexy Daisy Buchanan in John Harbison's "The Great Gatsby" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago last fall. She stepped in for indisposed Dawn Upshaw, who had created the role at the Metropolitan Opera the year before. Berneche plans to understudy Upshaw at the Met when the opera is reprised there next year.

Berneche, a recent alumna of the Lyric's two-year apprentice program, triumphed in "Gatsby" at a venue that has the attention of the whole opera world. Offers came pouring in; she's now booked solid for three years and has had to turn down many offers.

"When Alicia first came to us, she was already in fairly good shape," said Bill Mason, the Lyric's general director. "She knew theater; we used to talk about Shakespeare. What an artist such as she gains from us is the experience of working in a major company with the best in the world.

"Obviously, we intended to use Dawn Upshaw in 'Gatsby,' but when Dawn had to drop out we all thought that Alicia would be a terrific Daisy. The result was gratifying, not surprising; someone in whom we had great faith came through. She's determined and smart and I would think that she'll have a satisfying career."

A theatrical childhood

 That career began when Berneche was just a kid growing up in Kokomo, Ind. A friend of the family was an English professor with a Shakespeare specialty, and he introduced Berneche to theater when she was very young.

"His daughter and I used to put on scenes from Shakespeare," Berneche said, laughing. "I did Romeo when I was 6 years old!"

Through childhood and adolescence, she did all the theater one could possibly do in a small city in Indiana. By age 12, she had decided to be a Shakespearean actress. In high school, she was on the forensics team, acted in school plays, staged plays on her own and played the violin. The one thing she didn't do much was sing, until she went to an Episcopal priest for help with her English declamation. He suggested singing, and Berneche started studying with him.

"He didn't know that much about singing, but he knew enough to free up my breathing. And he was a great pianist and he taught me how to phrase and bring out emotion. After two or three months of that, I knew I wanted to be an opera singer."

With that in mind, she went off to DePauw University, a small liberal arts school in nearby Greencastle, Ind. There, in January of 1990, she found Vergene Miller, who remains her voice teacher. In addition to her DePauw bachelor's degree, she holds a graduate performance diploma from the Peabody Conservatory of Baltimore.

"I was gone on sabbatical the first semester," Miller recalled in a phone interview from Greencastle. "This little girl came to the door. She said: 'I waited for you. You tell me what to do and I'll be able to do it.'

"She was terribly talented. She sang 'Queen of the Night' (a notoriously difficult aria from Mozart's "The Magic Flute") her first year. In her junior year she started winning contests and everything started to click."

Working on the fine points

 Miller, like the Skylight's Carsey, noted Berneche's musicianship. She doesn't have to teach notes when they get together.

"We talk about how to sing," Miller said. "We work on the extremes, the top and bottom, and what to do to make the extreme ranges come out. We work on ways to pace energy, so that she'll have voice left at the end of a long role, such as Lucia.

"Her voice has gotten bigger and sturdier since 1990, and it's been very natural growth. She's having a good time discovering what she will be as a singer as the voice continues to grow. I think Lucia will be a big part of her future."

Berneche said that 10 years ago her voice - which today is bright and powerful, but not shrill, and possessed of an almost tenorial ping - was very high and very light.

"C above high C was nothing to me, and I could hit high Es all over the place," she said. "But there were big register breaks in my voice and not much on the bottom. My voice has dropped a little and become more consistent. As I get older, it gets more lyrical, which I love. I'll never be a Turandot, but that's good - it's too much work. The lyric coloratura and soubrette roles are better fits for my personality."

Her personality is winning, onstage and off. Face to face, she is warm and engaging. Her openness and energetic charm are hard to resist. She laughs readily and talks a lot, but Berneche is no witless canary. A thoughtful and astute analysis of the structure of Harbison's "Gatsby" rolled off her tongue during the interview.

Craig Rutenberg, a vocal coach for the Lyric Opera apprentices, e-mailed to say, "She's an extremely intelligent lady who knows her stuff. When there is a snag in the preparation of work, she knows enough to go right to the heart of the matter. Alicia's greatest strength is the honesty of her vocal expression. She is a terribly good and kind woman and I think these qualities shine through her music making. If she has any weaknesses, I think it would only be her reluctance to own up to her own worth."

Being herself

 The Skylight was the first place Berneche worked after her Lyric apprenticeship. Berneche says the company has been crucial to her development.

"My two years at the Lyric were great for instilling tradition," she said. "You go into someone's office there and see pictures of Callas and Tebaldi on the wall looking down at you. I came here trying to sing like them. And Richard would say, 'Who are you trying to sound like now? We want you to be who you are.' He was very diligent about that."

Her directors at the Skylight have been Dorothy Danner in both Richard Wargo operas, William Theisen in "Pinafore" and now Paula Suozzi in "Lucia."

"I don't think I truly learned to act and sing together until Dottie (Danner)," Berneche said. "She knows how to find that vocal moment that is motivated by stage action. She's very good at tricking singers into being good actors - all of them are.

 

"Safety and security are important in finding your own voice, and the Skylight is a safe, secure place. Everything good and unique you saw in me in 'Gatsby' - I got it here."

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Jan. 28, 2001.

 

The Times of Northwest Indiana

Sept. 24, 2000 The Great Gatsby Lyric Opera of Chicago:

Indiana-born singer Alicia Berneche, who has understudied 21 stars at Lyric Opera, has won the plumiest role of the season here.

The Kokomo native will play “Daisy” in the Chicago premiere of “The Great Gatsby,” based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about the idle rich in the Roaring 20’s. The Lyric beckoned when Dawn Upshaw-who created the role of the languid belle at the Met-bowed out because of vocal exhaustion.

It was a bittersweet moment for Berneche, 29, who hd been pinch-hitting for the soprano in rehearsals. “I have all of her Cds.” This was my big chance to see her live and work with her,” she said.

Yet no lyric coloratura soprano could ask for a bigger break. Like Fitzgerald’s tragic heroine, composer John Harbison’s Daisy is an over-the-top character, a poor little rich girl who wavers between her well-heeled husband (Clifton Forbis) and a yearning ex-beau (Jerry Hadley).

“I’ve always considered her a jazz age Madame Bovary,” said Berneche, a DePauw University grad who knows her 19th century literature. “She doesn’t like reality. She’s a dreamer. She loves romance, lives for romance, lives for romantic novels. Nature for her is one orgiastic swirl of beauty.

“She escapes reality by noting a bird singing on the lawn, voices she hears in the rain,” she added. “She sings a whole passage about pink clouds, how she wants to wrap Gatsby up in a pink cloud and push him around.

“Gatsby’s not a reality,” she concluded. “He’s a myth she loves, the romantic myth of her youth.”

“Gatsby” marks Berneche’s fufth time on the Lyric stage, having appeared in “Mourning Becomes Electra,” “Peter Grimes,” “The Marriage of Figaro”, and “Suor Angelica” since 1996.

 

New York Times

Oct. 2, 2002 Galileo Galilei, Brookyln Academy of Music:

“Much of the vocal writing is familiar Glassian declamation, but there are some sweetly lyrical touches, too, including a lovely aria for Galileo's daughter, sung affectingly by Alicia Berneche.”

 

Oct. 13, 1998 Mourning Becomes Electra, Lyric Opera of Chicago:

“as well as Alicia Berneche, Brett Polegato and Raymond Aceto in supporting roles, were all excellent.”

 

Oct. 6, 1997 Peter Grimes, Lyric Opera of Chicago:

“…and Alicia Berneche, as the Nieces, were beautifully balanced among themselves and with the orchestra”

 

LA Times

January 22, 2004 Cosi fan tutte:

“Alicia Berneche made her company

 debut as a sparkplug, galvanizing Despina”

 

LA Weekly

Jan. 30, 2004 Cosi fan tutte:

“...Alicia Berneche, a scene-stealer to the manner born, in the great theft-worthy role of Despina.”

 

 

The Laguna Beach Independent

Jan. 23, 2004 Cosi fan tutte:

“The crowd pleaser, among a pack of charmers, is adorable Alicia Berneche as the complaisant (for a price) maid who greases the wheels, Berneche is outrageously droll while remaining believable and spontaneous. Her low comedy impersonations of male functionaries, with her voice flung into strange registers, are full of pratfalls (and worse) fit for a commedia dell’arte zany. The amazing part is the simplicity with which she wins you over.

 

ClassicsToday.com

Oct. 5, 2002 Galileo Galilei, Brooklyn Academy of Music:

“…while Alicia Berneche (older Maria Celeste) was luckily blessed with some of the few tuneful passages, which she sang radiantly.”

 

Opera News

Feburary 2001 The Great Gatsby, Lyric Opera of Chicago:

“As Daisy Buchanan, Alicia Berneche was a brighter, more fragile presence, lacking Upshaw’s lurking intelligence, which, arguably, made her better suited to the character. Berneche was effective in Daisy’s aria, “Where is the old warm world?,” and in the first-act duet with Jordan Baker, “Soon it will be the longest day of the year,” evoking the jazz-age smart set’s bored decadence with subtle precision.”

 

July 2002 Cosi fan tutte, Sarasota Opera:

“Things picked up considerably with the entrance of Alicia Berneche as Despina. The soprano's delightful stage presence and agile vocalism made for a deliciously feisty performance. She seemed to spark her colleagues, whose performances gained in vocal distinction and momentum thereafter.

 

March 2000 Werther, Portland Opera:

“Portland Newcomer Alicia Berneche sang Sophie with a girlish soprano that sounded fresh and full of character.”

 

July 1999 Ballymore, Skylight Opera:

“In Winners, Jeffrey Picon and Alicia Berneche made a lovely couple…”

 

 

Washington Post

March 3, 1999 Ballymore, Skylight Opera:

“the radiant Alicia Berneche”, “The lively singers gave a terrific ensemble performance, especially Ms. Berneche as the excessively pious teenage neightbor Cissie. Her pure, high soprano added a special charge to the vocal texture.”

 

July 25, 1995 The Student Prince, Summer Opera Theatre:

“Major credit goes to soprano Alicia Berneche in the role of Kathie, the waitress who is loved and then put aside. For the show to have any emotional impact, the audience must care for Kathie; Berneche’s acting makes that almost inevitable. She also sings beautifully…”

 

The Boston Globe

Oct. 14, 2000 The Great Gatsby, Lyric Opera of Chicago:

“Soprano Alicia Berneche…sang Daisy brightly and with assurance, put over every syllable of the text, and created an exceptional characterization of this maddening, self-absorbed yet charismatic creature. The brief scene with her daughter in which she is surprised, delighted, and horrified by a display of spontaneous affection was an extraordinary piece of acting.”

 

Chicago Tribune

Jan. 17, 2000 Concertante di Chicago Concert of Szymanowski’s “Songs of the Fairy-Tale Princess”:

“Alicia Berneche proved a largely capable soloist. In the Polish composer’s punishing vocal lines—a strange blend of stratospheric vocalize and naïve text—Berneche managed to find subtle expressive feeling, with “Lovely Moon” a nice blend of innocence and romantic yearning.”

 

Feb. 14, 1999 Ballymore, Skylight Opera:

“but it is Berneche’s affecting Mag who drives the simple but touching story.”

 

Oct. 8, 1998 Mourning Becomes Electra, Lyric Opera of Chicago:

“ …and soprano Alicia Berneche a silvery-voiced Helen Niles.”

 

July 18, 1997 Lucia di Lammermoor, Grant Park Symphony:

Alicia Berneche…chirped her mad scene with a shining, flexible, technically secure soprano, her florid runs and trills echoed by Jean Birkenstock’s flute.

 

Chicago Sun-Times

June 25, 2002 Galileo Galilei, Goodman Theatre:

“Alicia Berneche, charming as Daisy Buchanan in Lyric Opera's recent production of "The Great Gatsby,'' brought a bright, agile soprano to the role of the older Maria Celeste”

 

Oct 8, 1998 Mourning Becomes Electra, Lyric Oopera of Chicago:

“Also compelling are Kevin Langan as Ezra Mannon, Brett Polegato as the good-hearted Peter Niles and Alicia Berneche as his innocent sister, Helen”

 

April 3, 1996 Night of the Rising Stars Concert, Lyric Opera Center for American Artists

“Soprano Alicia Berneche…showed great flair for comedy”

 

July 17, 1997 Lucia di Lammermoor, Grant Park Symphony:

“Alicia Berneche was the rare soprano who can navigate the coloratura of Lucia’s mad scene while still appearing convincing as a lovelorn girl.”

 

Philadelphia Inquirer

Feb. 3, 1999 Ballymore World Premiere, Skylight Opera:

“Carol Bailey’s simple set mimics green-turfed hills and vales over which Berneche jousts and tumbles. It’s a fearless, fetching realization. Her Mag, mercurial of temperment, is vocally a questing, radiant girl.”

 

Philadelphia Weekly

Jun. 28, 1998 The Marriage of Figaro, Opera Festival of New Jersey:

“Alicia Berneche created a feisty but tender Susanna-the object of everyone’s desire-and sang with a light, lovely soprano that imbued every phrase with meaning.”

 

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel :

June 29, 2002 Galileo Galilei, Goodman Theatre:

“The music takes a sudden, markedly warmer turn at a crucial point in the opera, a scene between Galileo and his illegitimate but nonetheless beloved elder daughter, Maria Celeste. Soprano Alicia Berneche, who has had great success at Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theatre, drew an extended ovation for an aria built around the spare beauty of the prose in actual letters from daughter to father.

Feb. 4, 2001 Lucia di Lammermoor, Skylight Opera:

“Berneche is the more intense of the two. Her sound is powerful and bright - brilliant in high coloratura - but never edgy. She is willing to let that sound break down when she feels it serves the character; the last note of the famous mad-scene aria was an unnerving, semi-pitched moan. She made a fierce, physical Lucia, who does not so much wilt away for lost love as burst into madness out of the sheer frustration of thwarted desire. An electrifying sense of risk charged Berneche's performance. Where Berneche explodes…You fear Berneche…”

Berneche sang with a lustrous warmth beyond anything she's managed at the Skylight. The affecting words, tender relationship and Glass' unexpected melodic facility gave her the chance to touch the audience, and Berneche won their love. Instead of just another instrument in the orchestra, her voice was cast as virtuosa over accompaniment.”

 

May 12, 2000 HMS Pinafore, Skylight Opera

“Soprano Alicia Berneche, riveting in Richard Wargo's "Ballymore" last year, was riveting in an entirely different way as the ingenue Josephine. She savored the florid beauty of Sullivan's tunes and applied a comically outsized gravitas to her flighty character.”

 

Feb. 17, 1999 Article about Ballymore, Skylight Opera:

“Wargo got a big boost, though, in Berneche. Mag’s babbling could have been deadly coming from a lesser singer-actress, but Berneche made her exuberantly real and alive.”

 

The Star-Ledger of Princeton, NJ

June 22, 1998 The Marriage of Figaro, Opera Festival of New Jersey

“Thus we have a Susanna (Alicia Berneche) who can wink and kick her man’s shin with fiery panache while vocally stringing a pearly upward scale”

 

Classical New Jersey

July 8, 1998 The Marriage of Figaro, Opera Festival of New Jersey:

“Were it not for the confusion which would reign on OFoNJ’s season, this opera could have been renamed “Susanna’. Alicia Berneche gave the spunkiest version of that I have seen in ages. As a conspirator she was slick and fast on her feet, and as a lover she was overtly demanding yet touchingly vulnerable. Matching her efforts on behalf of Beaumarchais and Da Ponte, her Mozart singing was excellent. Phrases emerged with the ease of speech while conveying flawless musicality. She had no trouble in her range except in the very lowest tones, a place she only had to go once. And every word was understood-no “soprano-it is” for her. She got the most laughs, and it was no coincidence, for all her laugh-lines were projected perfectly.”

 

Rockford Register Star, Rockford, IL

April 13, 1997 Lucia di Lammermoor, Rockford Symphony:

“Soprano Alicia Berneche was a real standout as Lucia. Her extraordinary lyric coloratura rang sweet and clear above the heaviest orchestral moments. She was marvelous in the famous “Mad Scene.” Her lovely, flexible runs, trills and the disjointed snippets of conflicting emotions were punctuated by wonderful body language.

    She went from sweet and radient to distraught and almost shrieking and back again in the blink of an eye.”

 

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