Singer, actor, model, influencer, and writer Eugenia Forteza was born in France, moved to Buenos Aires as a child, and grew up with a bilingual, bicultural education. Her versatility and enterprising spirit brought her to the United States at the age of 19 and catapulted her onto the innovative, independent New York City opera scene. Trendy and tech-savvy, this multitalented artist spoke to me about her unconventional path and about what it takes to be a performing artist in today’s digitally reliant world. More information about Eugenia Forteza is available on her website, mentioned at the end of this interview.
In a world where specialization is encouraged, the path of being engaged in different fields at the same time can be criticized by some. How have you, as a singer, actor, model, blogger, and social media influencer coped with naysayers or cynics and kept true to your path and all of your interests?
I have a lot to say about this because it’s something that I’ve actually dealt with since I was very young. My main opinion is that you have to be a well-rounded person to be a true artist. A true artist has to have lots of different interests and inspirations to draw from, because we are presenting the world and analyzing human behavior, and helping people remember who they are. So, we need a global understanding of who humans are, the cultures we’re representing, and what real empathy means—all of that comes with having a big-picture mindset of the world. But it’s very much case by case too. At the same time, of course you have to, on some level, specialize if you’re going to be a professional at something. It’s more about how you manage your time.
I think a lot of people have the idea that if you do only one thing and focus, you’re going to be doing it really well and that’s the only way to do it. As someone who is able to multitask, I find how all of the things I do are interconnected and make me better. I’ve always been someone with a lot of interests; if I could, I would do a million more things. I’m constantly controlling myself because people like us have this default: we know that if we don’t keep ourselves in check, we’re going to spread ourselves too thin and I definitely had to learn that lesson. We need to put a certain amount of hours a day in what we do, to get better. The problem is also that people see you doing a lot of different things and assume that you’re all over the place. That’s not necessarily the case. Everything I’m doing is under the umbrella of the arts—it all feeds each other, and it all helps me. I know people who are super focused on one thing, especially in sports, and that’s what has allowed them to be really great at what they do. But even then… for example, Serena Williams dances on the side. There are a lot of different ways to do things.
Speaking of sports, how important is physicality for you onstage and in general?
Oh, that’s a great question! I grew up in a very academic environment. I went to the French Lycée in Buenos Aires, so I basically had a bilingual education, and I started learning English very young. Most of my interests were in sports and the arts, and I did all of that after school. My two big sports were tennis and field hockey. Throughout my studies, I started doing yoga and Pilates. Now I’m actually an ambassador for The Musical Athlete – a program that offers specific training to singers. This has completely changed not only my singing but my lifestyle. It’s training with a purpose, not about losing weight, but, like an athlete, focused on what your body type needs to be able to sing with your voice.
The Musical Athlete team is amazing; they developed this program throughout last year during the pandemic and I’ve been training with them through Zoom because they’re in Florida. It’s been a complete game-changer for me. I had a sinus and deviated septum surgery a year and a half ago which completely changed my singing. I was singing soprano for ten years, and after the surgery I switched to mezzo. I had been basically a mouth-breather throughout my entire life, and I was singing a certain a way. Throughout this last year I’ve relearned how to breathe properly beyond singing, and to make my body be as efficient as possible for what I need to do on the stage. So, yes, physical activity is a big part of my life.
Tell us about the female-led organization and social media platform you founded, 360° of Opera.
I started it right after I finished grad school at Rutgers. I moved to New York in 2016, and I was at a Carnegie Hall concert feeling so overwhelmed by the music and what I was experiencing that the concept just came to me. I always had a lot of interest in journalism and had been an active social media person. I had also worked behind the scenes and in production. Having grown up in Argentina, when I got to the States at 19, it was like living a dream. Everything was new, I didn’t know much about opera, but I wanted to be in opera right away, so I started to work as an assistant stage manager. During summer festivals my work study was always in production, so I got a lot of interesting experiences that gave me a sense of what the opera world is and what it takes to get on that stage.
I felt like there was a lack of awareness and education on both sides: on the audience side to appreciate all the work that goes into a show, and also, as far as my colleagues, I felt like people were taking a lot of things for granted, in general. Opera singers need to be patient to develop, but when you’re so passionate about something, you understand that you’re still growing and developing but you need to find a way to share it with people. I started 360 as a blog on Instagram first. Through a Facebook group, I met my friend Suzanne Vinnik who is an opera singer and designer; she created a website called Shoperatic, and a Facebook group originally called “The Opera Diva Dress Collection” for opera singers to exchange dresses. She was instrumental in me going a step further at a moment when opera wasn’t really big on social media yet. I was at the right place at the right moment with the right idea, so it grew really fast. It hit all the marks for me with all my interests and I met so many people.
Because of 360 I ended up working for two years at Lenny’s Studio—a boutique PR agency—it was the best job I could have had during that period. I’ve kept 360 very flexible and fun, because at the end of the day, even if I do a lot of things, it’s very clear to me that my performing career is my priority. Part of my mission is that I want to give back with educational opportunities, and free tickets. Then, through the journalism part, I try to show the opera world how I see it: cool and fresh, interesting and inclusive. It’s also become a platform for promotion; I’m cooperating with a lot of companies and brands to offer discounts.
Are you still working as a social media manager?
Yes, for the International Vocal Arts Institute. I’m also the Chief Marketing Officer for Olympia Arts which is a digital solutions and consulting company run by my friend Aza Sydykov who is an amazing pianist. When I was at Lenny’s Studio, I did a lot of the social media managing for many big stars of the opera and classical music world and it was a great experience. I learned a lot about the PR world and communications.
Why is social media engagement important for opera singers and what would you tell those reluctant to use it?
With social media, you just have to start. There is no set way of doing things. Social media is a tool, it doesn’t control you, you control how you use it, and you can make the most of it for yourself. Why wouldn’t you use it if it’s going to help you? If you want to be an artist of any sort and have a performing career, realize that it’s much more than just singing or playing an instrument. We’re entrepreneurs, we’re freelancers, and until you have a big enough career that you can pay someone like Lenny’s Studio or any other agency to do it for you, you have to figure it out. You don’t have to be like me, I’m on social media a lot, mostly just because I enjoy it. I met so many incredible people online that have pushed my career further. I wouldn’t be the singer I am today if I hadn’t met The Musical Athlete through a friend in Italy whom I’ve never met in real life but we’re friends on Instagram. There’s a little bit of this one-dimensional idea that social media is an evil place, when actually it’s a place filled with opportunities if you’re open to go for it. At the end of the day, you manage your schedule. Even setting aside half an hour a day for social media is plenty, you can get done a lot. We all have 24 hours a day, if I can do it, you can do it.
I think part of the reluctance comes from all the studies that show how social media can become addictive and how people end up spending hours on it.
But the problem is not social media, then. The problem is in the habits, in managing time. Social media is what it is inherently. It’s something available to you and it’s free! And it’s one more way to put your work out there and to present yourself to the world, more than a business card would at a cocktail party. You can use your time and connect with way more people on social media than at these events where you talk to a few people. It’s all a matter of perspective. There are a lot of misconceptions around it.
There are many innovators in the field of opera in New York City and you sang with a few of these enterprising opera companies. Tell us more. Why is New York City special to you?
I’m so grateful to New York and all the people here. The artists here are relentless; there’s always going to be something to do, some opportunity. Even when I was in school, I was coming to New York a lot and developing a presence. I did the International Vocal Arts Institute program during the summers, so I connected with a lot of people who went to school here. There are so many projects and small independent companies in New York; great opportunities for a young singer to do things. In those years after school, you just have to sing in front of people, even if it’s one aria. In everything you do, you meet people and that leads to something else.
Yes, there are so many great innovative organizations here, like Opera on Tap, for example. I also sang with New Camerata Opera, New Amsterdam Opera, Bare Opera, Gramercy Opera, now I’m a young artist with Teatro Grattacielo. There’s a new opera company called The Opera Next Door and they just did a Così fan tutte on stoops in Brooklyn. People are so creative and it’s such a melting pot of cultures. When people were saying that, because of Covid, New York City is dead, we, the ones who stayed here, were just laughing. New York City can’t die. It’s immortal!
What is coming up for you?
On June 18, I’m singing in the Teatro Grattacielo’s Annual Fund Gala, which will be live-streamed. This summer I will be shooting my first feature film! I cannot share details yet. In November, I’m involved in Teatro Grattacielo’s L’Amico Fritz. And there are other things happening which I will share on my website and social media soon.
Top photo: Eugenia Forteza as Dada Queen in the world premiere jazz opera about Kiki de Montparnasse Tabula Rasa by Felix Jarrar and Bea Goodwin at The Blue Building in NYC – Live immersive sold out performances + Film by La Cuarta Productions. Available to watch on YouTube.