BWW Interview: J’Nai Bridges Morphs from Sports to Suzuki in SDO Butterfly

Since participating in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s esteemed Ryan Opera Center, the award- winning young mezzo-soprano already has become recognized for her multi-varied sound ranging from rich and impassioned to delicate and sensitive, and has has proved her vocal versatility in repertoire that includes operas of Verdi, Rossini, Dvorak, Bellini, Mozart and Bizet. She makes her San Diego Opera debut as Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on Sat., Apr. 16.

EM: J’Nai, welcome to SDO! I’m fascinated by your name. What is the story behind it?

JB: The story behind my name is fun. My parents loved the music of soul singer Freddie Jackson. One of their favorite songs is called “Janay.” It’s a love song so they always called me their love child because I was named after this song. They were very creative with the spelling. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jackson a couple years ago and when I told him the background of my name, he hugged me and didn’t let go.

When it comes to rising stars in the opera world, J'nai Bridges is one to watch.

Broadway World

EM: Your musical and educational background is amazing: Curtis Institute, Manhattan School, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s prestigious Ryan Opera Center training program. What was your journey getting there?

JB: I am extremely grateful for my musical and educational background. It came about in a very unusual way. I was an athlete in high school with my sports being Track & Field and basketball. I had a few scholarships to play in college, but I turned them down when I discovered and fell in love with classical vocal music. I have played the piano since the age of five, so classical music was always a love of mine. However I had not been exposed to opera. My junior year in high school I needed to take an art elective, so I decided to join the choir. My choir teacher immediately identified a natural gift in my voice and suggested I take private lessons. I did and instantly fell in love with singing classically. I didn’t have much time to get and audition pre-screening package together, but nevertheless I did! I quickly learned and recorded songs in Italian, French, German, and English per the undergraduate audition requirements. I was granted a live audition at Manhattan School of Music and was quite nervous but I sang my heart out. The next thing I knew, I was admitted into MSM in the spring! From that point on I worked extremely hard and graduated with the highest honors, one of them being admitted into The Curtis Institute of Music. Curtis is a special place. We got to sing a large amount of roles long with a ton of stage experience. We also auditioned for opera companies, orchestras, and management almost weekly. Given the opera studio is extremely small and selective, we basically got one-on-one attention at all times. This is what sets Curtis apart from other conservatories. At Curtis, the Lyric Opera of Chicago came for auditions. They heard me and immediately accepted me into their young artist program. I always say that I didn’t choose opera but it chose me. I have just been listening to my heart, gut, and God. It was also helpful that my parents and family supported me 100% through this decision, and they still do! I do give credit to my athletic background because I have gotten great discipline from it.

Read the entire feature here.