Unlike many opera singers, soprano Jessica Sandidge, making her Sarasota Opera debut this season, didn’t feel destined for the career from an early age. Growing up in Los Angeles, she says, “I played violin all through school, but it didn’t speak to me, so I switched to the harp. I wanted to play that when I went to the University of California at Santa Cruz, but they weren’t doing any pieces with harp, so they told me I should audition for choir instead.” She did, got in, and the following year auditioned for their opera season, snagging the plum role of Pamina in The Magic Flute. “I knew I could sing,” Sandidge says, “but I didn’t know I could sing opera.” Once she learned she could, she says, “I never looked back,” receiving her master’s from the New England Conservatory of Music.
Since then, she’s performed with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera and Pittsburgh Festival Opera, among others, often portraying doomed heroines like Violetta in La traviata or Mimi in La bohème. In Sarasota, she gets to tackle something lighter: Musetta in La bohème, a role debut for her. (She also plays a “trouser role” as Walter in La Wally.) “It will be refreshing to not play a tragic role,” she admits. “Musetta is a free spirit. She’s not deathly ill and she has joie de vivre.” While new to the Sarasota Opera stage, she’s worked with maestro Victor DeRenzi before, and she’s visited Sarasota to hear friends perform here. “It’s a lovely place to make music,” she says.