While she has performed some Classical-era and contemporary works, the world of the Baroque is where soprano Amanda Forsythe feels most comfortable and has enjoyed the most success.
That said, Forsythe is not, strictly speaking, an opera singer but more of a general classical soloist, because she spends more time in concert halls than she does in opera houses, where rehearsals and performances for a single production can demand six weeks or more. “So I’ll be in and out in a week, which for me is the only kind of lifestyle I could do,” she said. “With my kids at home, I don’t want to be away that much.”
This season, she returns to Symphony Center March 26-28, when she performs arias by Handel and Purcell with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus and guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer.
Forsythe has a particular affinity for the music of Handel. “The Power of Love,” the only solo album among her 20 or so recordings, was released in October 2015 and is devoted to arias from her favorite Handel operas. “I sing through Bach, for example,” she said, “and I recognize the greatness, but it’s just not fun for me to sing. It just doesn’t suit my voice very well. But then there are certain Handel arias, where you pick up, and you sing through it once and you think, ‘Right, that sounds great.’ It fits really, really comfortably in the voice.”
As a teenager, Forsythe fostered no dreams of opera, Baroque or otherwise. After graduating from Cold Spring Harbor High School in Lloyd Harbor, N.Y., she began her studies at Vassar College in 1994, initially focusing on marine biology. Because she had been the star of musicals at her high school — “a big fish in a very small pond” — she also auditioned for voice lessons. But she was turned down, so she joined an a cappella group to get her “musical fix.” Later, a slot did open up in the music school, and she up ended graduating with a degree in music. “So it all worked out,” she said with a chuckle, “but in the meantime, I had a lot of different interests, and marine biology was only one of them.”
The soprano decided to pursue master’s studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, and again, things did not come easily. She was rejected from the opera workshop program, so she tried to get an audition for a Harvard Early Music Society production of Francesco Cavalli’s opera Giasone. She was told that it had already been cast, but a week later she got a call that a small part was available if she could try out right then. “The person who conducted the audition was my now-husband, Edward Elwyn Jones,” she said, “and it turned out to be very fortunate because not only did I meet him but [music director] Martin Pearlman from Boston Baroque came to the production and invited me to come and audition for his organization.”
That encounter with Perlman proved to be a turning point. It led soon after to her singing at a fund-raiser for Boston Baroque, an engagement that she thought at the time meant that she had arrived and her future was set. “But, of course, that’s not the way it went,” she said. “I would get a job and then there’d be a lull. And I’d get another job. It has been a very, very gradual climb, and it’s still sort of gradually climbing.”
That she performs primarily Baroque repertoire had a great deal, at least at first, with her living in Boston. “It’s just kind of the thing that they do here,” she said. “Boston Baroque, Handel and Haydn, Boston Early Music Festival — these are all organizations that I work with. I could have gone into new music as well. I won’t say that my voice doesn’t suit more standard repertoire, but in the States, certainly, I don’t get hired to do that kind of thing. In Europe, I will get hired to do more mainstream [works]. But over here, I was just getting hired to do Baroque, and it turns out that I love it. And now, I prefer it.”
A version of this article previously appeared on Sounds and Stories.