Soprano Twyla Robinson used to ride her bike on her family’s farm in Louisiana—-now she sings on the world’s greatest stages. In our world premiere of Morning Star, she portrays Becky Felderman, a character who leads her family through times of incredible difficulty and uncertainty.
So, just who is the woman behind the character? Read on to find out!
Where are you from? Did you grow up around music?
I’m from Denham Springs, Louisiana, which, back in the day, was just farmland between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. My Dad was a safety inspector and my mom was an RN. I also grew up with one brother, who was actually on the pro rodeo circuit and now is a farrier, so he shoes horses for a living. As far as being musical, there is a lot of latent musical talent in my family but nobody ever made their living doing it. Both my parents played piano and I have various aunts and uncles who are fiddlers—-I am from the south after all!
When you go back home, what is the one thing you look forward to the most?
Oh, heavens—-this is Cajun country, so when I go back to the area I get the authentic food! Although, what I really look forward to most is spending time with family. It’s all about that home nucleus, and the things I associate with home are the people and how we celebrate.
Do you remember when you decided you wanted to be a singer?
I could tell you the date, time, and even what the weather was like on the day I made the decision to sing! I was on my bike and we had a bank of mailboxes down by a giant oak tree. Now, these were not what you think of as mailboxes; they were basically tin cans that your delivery person would stuff full of mail. Anyway, I was on my bike, and I saw the sun coming through the trees,and it just hit me: “I’m gonna be a singer!” At the time I thought I was going to sing country or gospel because that’s what I knew.
When did you begin to consider classical voice as an avenue for your career?
The desire to sing opera didn’t come until college. I lived in a small, somewhat poor, town and the schools only offered band. This is Louisiana after all, so where there are football teams, there are marching bands. So, I joined up and played the French horn, which was actually my first major in college. One of the things that makes, say, a rock concert so amazing is that the music is so powerful and booming that it almost moves right through you. I experienced that same sensation the first time I heard opera. The difference was that it was the human voice and completely acoustic. Of course, wanting to be a singer all my life and loving that sensation, you can imagine it was a bit of a fait accompli! So, I added voice as another major to see how far I could take it and here we are.
You play Becky Felderman, the lead character in Morning Star. What has been the most interesting aspect of the process so far?
For me, I would say it’s that for the first time, I’m not playing a princess or something similar where the audience automatically likes me. Becky has a horrific past and is faced with tough decisions. I’ve been fascinated with the machinations of my brain to shy away from the hard bits because of how people may see the character. Ron Daniels [the director] has been very tough with me to make sure that Becky stays in a place of complete honesty, and that I allow the audience to make their own decision about her. There will be audience members who don’t like her and don’t agree with her choices, and I have to be ok with that.
You’ve performed with Cincinnati Opera over the period of a few years. What is the biggest change that you’ve seen over the course of your time here?
The first time I came here, Washington Park was just a gravel pit that we used for parking! The neighborhood around it was kind of bombed out. Then, I came back two years later and it was this gorgeous park and I thought, “How did they do that?” I came back for the third time, and not only is the park still gorgeous, but the community is absolutely vibrant. It seems like every afternoon when I walk through, there are families playing in the fountain and concerts. Strangers even just start talking to me! There’s this open, family feel to the area. I want to go spend time in the park today and sit and talk with a total stranger! That is a vastly different experience from my first time here in Cincinnati.
This is the all-important question. You’ve been here so many times that you’re basically an honorary Cincinnatian. What is your opinion on Cincinnati chili and Graeter’s?
Well, because I live in Texas, we have a very different view of chili, but I like it! I usually have it over a hot dog. I’m still getting used to the chili over pasta concept—-I’ve gotta give it time. But, let’s be honest—-if you don’t like Graeter’s ice cream, there’s something wrong with you! I haven’t had any yet this time around, but I’ve got to go soon. As far as flavors go, anything involving blueberry will probably be going into my cup.