The Empowered and Fearless Victoria Wefer
by Suzette Banzo
“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” is a phrase we hear repeatedly. While it’s often said at the defining moment when all hopes are gone, what it has also done along the way was demean and stereotype a group of gifted women who are serious artists. Victoria Wefer, a beautiful, well-rounded and talented woman joins the ranks of an evolving new image within Opera, challenging the perception of how a serious opera singer should look and replacing it with how a curvaceous, vivacious artist should sound. Empowered…Fearless.
Suzette: When did you first discover that you had a voice for Opera?
Victoria Wefer: When I was fifteen, I was singing in my high school choir and a girlfriend let me know about a competition for singers and urged me to participate. My choir director pointed out that this was an operatic competition so I would need to get a voice teacher in order to be as good as required. I began training and felt the calling; I never turned back. Suzette, my life changed dramatically after that contest; I pursued music full force.
Suzette: How well did you do in the contest?
Victoria Wefer: (laughing) I did not win the competition but out of 30 contestants, I placed 25. This was my first time and I competed against very seasoned singers. I designed my gown and if you can believe it…I still have it!
Suzette: That is so endearing; what was the gown like?
Victoria Wefer: It looked like Cinderella’s wedding dress, white and puffy with beading everywhere including beading on the white satin shoes. I drew it, picked out the fabric and took it to a local seamstress who put it all together. In my mind, an opera singer was a princess. I was so shocked to see the look on the other contestants’ faces because they were all wearing casual attire. I think I was more disappointed about that than not winning the $5,000 prize.
Suzette: How funny, what a visual! Where do you usually shop for your gowns now?
Victoria Wefer: My favorite place to go is the garment district in NYC. If you find a gown you desire is not in stock, almost all the stores can order it and they will tailor it to fit your shape. They cater to a broad range of sizes. I shopped there even when I was a size 24.
Suzette: What is the most exciting city where you have performed?
Victoria Wefer: Monte Carlo took my breath away. The exposure to the French Riviera…it is an amazing place and I recommend it to all. The people love music; they love opera and cherish their artists. There is so much to do and see. You will have a wonderful time even if you have champagne taste on a Pepsi budget. Everyone I met was so friendly and gracious. I had the privilege of being the only American singer selected to sing in a concert at Princess Caroline’s villa in Monte Carlo. What a night! It represented so very much for me. Never was I so grateful to my mother for investing in my etiquette lessons. I experienced “white glove” treatment with everything. It was over the top and splendid and I loved it.
I have great memories of the city of Trujillo, Peru. Even at 4 A.M., you can find a place to have a good meal with great new friends. I was there for an international singing competition where I placed as a semi-finalist. The culture is so beautiful and it is definitely different from the Mediterranean. The people love music and they love opera wholeheartedly. It never ceases to amaze me how music can break all language barriers almost instantly.
Suzette: Speaking of language, I understand that you have an ability to pick up different languages easily. Which language did you speak at home and which additional ones have you learned?
Victoria Wefer: Papiamento is the language that I grew up with and I learned to speak it before English; it is spoken predominantly in the Netherlands Antilles or better known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). My family comes from Aruba. I learned French in high school and learned Spanish, formally, when I was at university earning my Bachelors Degree in English Literature. My mother also taught me a bit of Portuguese and my very first voice teacher taught me Italian. While I was earning my Masters Degree in Music, I continued to take diction courses in French, Italian, and German. My German is stronger than Dutch (much to the chagrin of my mother who is fluent in Dutch) and last year, I was teaching myself Latin.
Suzette: You recently performed in Carmela Sinco’s “RAYA & SAG-IN”. Can you tell us about the story?
Victoria Wefer: It is a piece of magic written by the most wonderful and talented Filipina I will ever know. “Raya” and “Sag-In” are the names of characters from a very famous Filipino legend, “The Legend of the Banana Plant”. Sag-In is a male spirit who falls in love with a human girl named Raya. Sag-In is invisible to Raya and he is hell-bent on becoming human if only for the chance to reveal his love to her but of course, like any good love story, there is a foil. The foil in this opera is a higher-ranking spirit named “Bathala”. Sag-In begs Bathala to transform him into a human. Bathala reluctantly allows him this opportunity but warns him that he risks his chance at being able to reach his full potential as the ‘chosen one’ in the spirit world. Golden Fleece Ltd., based in New York City, commissioned Carmela Sinco’s opera as their 17th Annual Commissioned Opera/Theater Production. Carmela Sinco wrote the libretto and the music. It is a one-act opera written in English and consists of seven scenes without an intermission. She is already in meetings about bringing the production to the Philippines and perhaps even expanding the story so there is definitely more to come. I am delighted to be cast as Raya. She is an impressive character that Ms. Sinco has written as strong-willed, independent and very feminine. I am honored to premiere this role.
Suzette: I am curious about something and I hope you do not mind me asking this, has losing weight affected your voice?
Victoria Wefer: It is a fair question. I recently lost 92 pounds over the course of a year and a half and I can say that my voice has NOT changed. It has not become weaker as a result of my weightloss. Despite common perception, I was always healthy. I did not have high blood pressure, my sugar was not high, and I did not have high cholesterol.
Suzette: What made you decide to lose weight?
Victoria Wefer: The decision was well thought out and researched. I want to make it clear that I did it without surgery. I continue to diet, have an intense workout regimen and I am not skinny. Honestly, I was told that if I didn’t lose the weight I could forget about having a successful operatic career. I got tired of witnessing skinny girls being considered and many times hired for roles that I was a natural for vocally. Opera is not exempt from what the more popular music industry deems as ‘what’s hot’. Opera singers are not currently expected to be a size 0 or 2. However, you do not have to look too hard to see that Opera is becoming more and more about the visual as well as the audible. Casting directors would like someone who looks like the role. Some of the lead female roles are Mimi in La Bohème, Violetta in La Traviata, and of course, Carmen which is probably the sexiest and most popular character in Opera. I am a size 12 now and my goal is to be a size 10. My curves are in check! With my bone structure and standing tall at 5’8, I will look emaciated at any size smaller than 10 and looking sickly is not my goal. I want to maintain my health. My instrument is my voice. I walk with it inside of me every waking moment of my existence. It is susceptible to everything in my environment, both the physical and emotional.
Suzette: The term “Diva” describes a woman of outstanding talent in the world of Opera. The term has evolved and become a buzzword with both negative and positive undertones. How would “Diva” describe you?
Victoria Wefer: You’re correct. The negativity surrounding the word “Diva” is usually pinned on a woman that expects special treatment, wants things done her way without compromise or consideration of others; she won’t care about her colleagues or the rest of the team around her. I use the word “Diva” to describe myself as someone that is prepared, confident, strong willed when I NEED to be, considerate, generous, and a team player. Being gifted and talented is a blessing and a treasure. Like all gifts, you have to take care of it. Protecting my image and the way I’m perceived by my audience is important to me. I always want to put my best foot forward.
Suzette: How do you prepare for a performance?
Victoria Wefer: I try to think of positive things, surround myself with positive people and drink plenty of water because it is very important for me to stay hydrated. I also try to listen to music that makes me feel energized, like listening to Beyoncé.
Suzette: What advice did you receive that has kept you focused on your journey?
Victoria Wefer: Wow! I’ve gotten a lot of advice on my journey so far. The one piece of advice that has remained with me and comforted me, onstage and offstage, came from my voice teacher, Diana Soviero: “Whenever you start doubting yourself, remember you did this you built all this without fear and that’s what you need to have a career in Opera. You must be fearless.”
To learn more about Victoria and hear samples of her music, please visit www.victoriawefer.com