Janai Brugger is an incredible artist, a mesmerizing performer, an extraordinarily kind and gracious human, and an exceptionally valued friend—and that’s not even scratching the surface.
Interview: March 10, 2021
This talented soprano has been a friend of the company for 11 years, going all the way back to 2010 when she was just starting out in the industry as part of our Young Artist Program.
Fast forward to March 2021 and Janai Brugger has solidified herself as one of opera’s rising stars—and one of our favorite artists to work with. There was no question that we were eager to recognize her talents through the new Eva and Marc Stern Artist Award. And since we already have the pleasure of knowing Janai, we wanted to make sure you did too.
It’s hard for us to imagine Janai as anything but an opera singer, but believe it or not, she didn’t see herself becoming one when she first started performing.
“My journey to becoming an opera singer is quite interesting because I never saw myself as an opera singer. I thought I would be doing musical theater. That was what my passion was. I was in junior high when I got to sing my first musical, The Music Man. I got trained classically when I was a freshman in high school. And as I did competitions, I entered both divisions, classical and musical theater, and I always seemed to advance in the classical category. So when it came time to pick a college to go to, and what my focus was going to be, I went ahead and went with voice performance as an opera singer.”
“After those four years, I took a two-year break because I was a little wiped out from the rigorousness of those courses, but I still kept up with my voice lessons and coaching. And I'd say after two years, I realized that I really wanted to go back into singing and felt ready to tackle a master's degree. So I auditioned, and I was fortunate to get into the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I had two amazing years at University of Michigan, and even met my husband there.”
After spending some time in Michigan, and with her master’s in hand, Janai made the move to Los Angeles to join our Young Artist Program in 2010. “I think [the program] is really where I learned to be an artist and learned who I was as an artist and what kind of artist I wanted to be.”
And learn she did. From her 2010 debut role as Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro to her first leading role on our stage as Musetta in La Bohème two years later, Janai’s growing artistry was evident. After graduating from the Young Artist Program in 2012, she moved on to compete—and place first in—some of the most renowned opera competitions around.
Her wins at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and then, just a few months later, at Operalia undoubtedly catapulted her career. “And the rest is kind of history,” said Janai.
But she was only getting started.
Fresh off those career boosting wins (and freshly out of our Young Artist Program), Janai made her way to the holy grail of operatic stages: the Metropolitan Opera.
“I made my Met debut in 2012 when I was seven months pregnant as Liu in Turandot. I had all the sort of emotions, excitement, and nerves that you can imagine, but it was thrilling. It was one of the most glamorous, gorgeous sets I've ever, ever been on. It was amazing to step onto that stage and to be on that set.”
If taking the Met stage while seven months pregnant wasn’t enough, Janai would soon sing for a different type of audience: Supreme Court justices.
“A big career highlight for me was getting to sing at the Supreme Court. I got to meet the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and some of the Supreme Court justices. It was just amazing. I had my family there: my husband, my mom, my dad. It was an incredible experience.”
She’s now sung six different leading roles at the Met and has had major debuts with companies like Covent Garden, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Cincinnati Opera and Dutch National Opera, not to mention concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra. She’s even sung on the soundtrack for HBO’s acclaimed Lovecraft Country. Fortunately for Angelenos, she’s also made it back to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for regular appearances, including a 2016 reprise of Musetta and more recent star turns as Pamina in The Magic Flute and Servilia in The Clemency of Titus. (She was also supposed to sing Zerlina in Don Giovanni here, one of the many pandemic cancelations.)
“Singing on the LA Opera stage is always a thrill, whether it's for an opera or a concert it's always a thrill. The audience is so, so welcoming and it feels like home. Anytime I get to come back to L.A., it's just like coming home in a way.”
And while there are dozens of people who make L.A. feel like home for Janai, two members of the LAO family have been supporting her since the beginning: Marc and Eva Stern.
“I think in my first year here, Eva took me shopping for gowns. I actually still have that dress, and it’s one of my favorites. Marc and Eva are wonderful people I've had the pleasure getting to know during my time as a Young Artist in L.A. They're always encouraging young artists at every production. It's a big, big honor to receive something in their name.”