Cast Spotlight - Jolie Rocke
Welcome back to our Opera for the 22nd Century blog for another feature from the cast of Changing Fortunes - A Zoom Opera by David Wolfson. We hope you plan to attend a performance (or two) of this exciting world premiere on either Friday, March 12 or Saturday, March 13. TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE and can be purchased through our website. Both performances will be presented live on Zoom. Today we're pleased to feature another talented cast member, soprano Jolie Rocke who is making her Hartford Opera Theater debut as Sharon in Changing Fortunes. We're thrilled to welcome Jolie to the Fortune's Children family and hope you enjoy learning about Jolie and what being a part of this production means to her.
Jolie Rocke, native New Yorker and renowned soprano is sharing the gift of song across the world. She has performed as a featured soloist in opera and concert tours of the USA, Europe and Far North Queensland Australia. Hartford Courant writer and critic Owen McNally marveled, "…a gifted, versatile vocalist who's as much at home soaring on opera arias and celestial hymns as she is getting down with funky blues and earthy jazz, just might, at long last, have the whole world in her hands thanks to her soulful album, Rock of Ages: Hymns for the Soul.” Her other recording projects Jolie Rocke Brown in Concert and E’en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come, are available through iTunes.com, Bandcamp.com, Amazon.com, and other media outlets.
Rocke began her career in opera as a chorus member and honed her fine instrument as a young artist with Intermezzo Opera (CT), Houston Ebony Opera Guild (TX), and internationally with Studio Lirico in Anghiari, Italy. She landed contracts for leading roles with Connecticut Opera, Connecticut Lyric Opera, Houston Ebony Opera Guild, Trilogy Opera, Théâtre national de l'opéra-comique (Paris) and New York Harlem Productions Company. Opera Online reported, “…as both the Sandman and Dew Fairy, along with the dancing of fourteen young angels stole the end of the first act...” in Connecticut Opera’s November 2004 production of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. Her other roles include Zerbinetta, in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Despina in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème, Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni Lisa in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, Margaret in Menotti’s Telephone, and Clara in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Concerts and appearances with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, New Britain Symphony, West Hartford Symphony, Connecticut Concert Opera, Hartford Chorale, CONCORA, and International Voices Houston. Dr. Rocke has been featured on the stages of New York’s Carnegie (Weill) Recital Hall, Houston's Wortham Theater Center, Hartford’s Bushnell Center for Performing Arts, Bridgeport's Klein Memorial Auditorium.
Acclaimed as a singer and music educator, Dr. Rocke was selected by the Texas Commission on the Arts to join the 2020-2022 Texas Touring Roster. The Amistad Center for Art & Culture housed at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, honored her with the 2014 Spirit of Juneteenth Award. She is a Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame 2012 Honoree. While her singing career continues to soar, her dedication to training and providing performing opportunities for young artists is unwavering. For more than thirty years Dr. Rocke served as a music educator, arts program developer, and consultant in Connecticut and Texas. She draws from her total life experience when she takes the stage or works with aspiring young artists. Her passion for music and the desire to pass it on to her students impels her to produce concerts, direct community arts programs and train aspiring singers as a private voice teacher, coach, and mentor.
A triumphant ten-year breast cancer survivor, Jolie remains in remission and provides support as a mentor and source of inspiration to other survivors and within the community. She annually donates to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation (www.tnbcfoundation,org) and has recently been awarded a 2020 Support for Artists and Creative Individuals Grant from the Houston Mayor's Office for Cultural Arts through the Houston Arts Alliance to write and mount a production sharing how music inspired her through her breast cancer journey. Rocke is serving her fourth term as a member of the Alumni Board of Directors for her alma mater, the University of Hartford. In that role, she holds the position of Director of the Alumni of Color Taskforce and was formerly Liaison to The Hartt School.
Jolie was conferred a Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance from the University of
Connecticut, a Master of Early Childhood Education from Loyola College in Baltimore, and a
Bachelor of Music from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. She has taught at Texas
Southern University, Prairie View A&M University (TX), Manchester Community College (CT), and the University of Connecticut. In addition to actively performing, presenting master classes and lectures nationally, Dr. Rocke is an Adjunct Professor at San Jacinto College, Artist in Residence at St. Peter United Church of Christ, Vocal Coach for V. Michael McKay’s Houston Gospel Legends Choir, and Owner of Rocke Vocal Studio in Houston, TX. In February 2020, she and her business partner, Maryland Grier-Union founded Equity Arts Enterprises LLC, an arts entertainment business based in Houston.
We recently interviewed Jolie about making her Hartford Opera Theater debut in Changing Fortunes. Here's what she had to say:
HOTOpera: We're thrilled to have you make your HOTOpera debut as Sharon (the Mother) in Changing Fortunes - the sequel to Fortune's Children: A Zoom Opera. What other online performances/projects have you been working on since COVID began?
Jolie: I have been blessed to be invited by several congregations and performing organizations to send videos of my singing for Sunday services. In February of 2020, I co-founded Equity Arts Enterprises, LLC in Houston with Maryland Grier-Union. We have been presenting monthly streamed performances by artists from Houston and Connecticut. We are continuing to present these through our Second Saturdays at Six Arts Series. I recently filmed my staged production, Singing HERstory, which I wrote and debuted in 2015 in Connecticut. I plan to offer the filmed version to theaters, libraries, educational and cultural organizations to present to their audiences virtually. In addition to being the featured performer, the production was wrote, produced, staged, designed the set, props, costumes, wigs, etc. I was able to hire a directorial consultant and film maker with a crew. We got the filming done in one day and look forward to seeing the final product in the next few weeks. These are the kinds of creative ways we have to work until the pandemic ends and we can perform live again. I am grateful to God for giving me a creative mind and for the continued support of the churches, arts organizations, loyal fans, and arts lovers.
HOTOpera: Is this your first time singing in an opera created for an online platform? If so, how is it different than working in person?
Jolie: Yes it is. I am looking forward to the experience. It will be strange to communicate without physical presence. As artists, kinesthetic energy is something we utilize in our performance. The energy we feel from the other performers on stage drives our interaction. Just like talking on the phone is a different feeling than talking in person, we will have to gauge our interactions carefully to express meaningful, truthful and clarity of expression.
HOTOpera: This opera is about COVID and the effect that the virus has on a family. Do you think it's possible for COVID to bring a family closer together?
Jolie: I think COVID can bring families together just as it can tear families apart. Domestic violence has been a huge concern for many families. Caring for the elderly and being respectful of their health over the individual desire to be present is a tough balance. I would love to see my mother right now. But she lives in NY and I am in Houston. If I fly there to visit – I risk her to exposure. If I drive, it’s so far that I risk her exposure. We talk daily and understand, though we would love to be together, it’s too risky. If she contracts the disease, she is likely to not survive because of her underlying health conditions, which are not life threatening, as long as she stays in good health. There are times she feels unsupported, but then we have to remember what the greatest risks are and remain practical. When my grandmother died in September 2020, only my mother and the funeral director attended the service. We wanted to go home, but we didn’t to protect my mother’s health. We will celebrate my grandmother’s life when the pandemic ends. This is the longest time span that I have not seen my mother in my life. It’s been over a year now. But I know she is safe in her home without visitors.
HOTOpera: What virtual projects (opera, theater or otherwise) have inspired you since the beginning of COVID? Have your ideas changed about how to create art in extenuating circumstances?
Jolie: This is tough, period. We do need to be creative and find many ways to reach audiences who can’t come to live events and performances. I am inspired to provided this service to others, but reality has kicked in. Artists can’t continue to live, eat and maintain a living without income. Free art is not fair to those of us who have spent a lifetime paying to develop our talent. We have to live and work…. If you know and artist, help by hiring them to perform virtually or sending them a donation. We are all struggling – even those of us who are able to work a little. I am grateful to HOT for this opportunity – for investing in artists through difficult times.
HOTOpera: What do you have to say to singers that are hesitant to participate in or organize an opera created for an online platform?
Jolie: Everyone has to make a decision to do what is right for them. There are many things to consider when you agree to virtual performances. How is this going to affect the arts industry in the long-term? Will we ever be able to recoup the costs we have put out to develop our talents? Will we be able to work in our art form and make a living? Will arts organizations survive and re-vive post pandemic? How will the artist survive when the industry and consumers can’t support us? Is working virtual the answer? Maybe for the short-term, but what are the long-term repercussions? Where is the equity – how do I perform when so many of my colleagues cannot? It’s all so complicated and no one has the answers.
HOTOpera: What is something fun that you want our audience to know about you?
Jolie: I love to make my own clothes, especially gowns for the stage and I’m an excellent cook.
Thank you for visiting our Opera for the 22nd Century blog! We hoped you enjoyed learning about Jolie. Stay tuned next week for more features including interviews with baritone, Thao Nguyen and composer/librettist, David Wolfson. We hope to see you on Zoom on 3/12 or 3/13 at 7pm. Visit our website to purchase your TICKETS today and learn more about this two part chamber opera created for Zoom!