Doug Robinson: Her rise in opera world started with lackluster music lesson

Published: Monday, July 30 2012 11:30 p.m. MDT

Ginger Costa-Jackson, a 25-year-old Mezzo-soprano who grew up in Utah, sings the lead role in the production of "Carmen" in the prestigious Glimmerglass Opera in New York. As a child, she prayed for a chance to be an opera singer.

Julieta Cervantes, All

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The way Ginger Costa-Jackson tells it, she wasn't even the best singer in her family. That was her younger sister, Miriam, a child prodigy. Ginger didn't take up singing until she was 17. By then, her voice was so balky that her voice teacher cut their first lesson short and ordered her to see a doctor — something had to be wrong with her vocal cords.

Five years later, Jackson was singing for the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where she has been employed ever since. In baseball terms, it's the equivalent of jumping from the high school junior varsity to the Major Leagues, only more unlikely.

Ginger Costa-Jackson, by way of Italy and Sandy, is a rising mezzo-soprano star. At 25, she is still a kid in a profession where women don't hit their prime until their mid-40s.

She plays secondary roles at the Met and covers lead roles. She sang the lead role in "Carmen" at last year's prestigious Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York. She recently made her debut in the San Francisco Opera in the role of Nancy T'ang in "Nixon in China." She played Lola at Barcelona's Gran Teater del Liceu, Marie in "Moise et Pharaon" at Carnegie Hall and on and on it goes. She has sung in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Spain, Germany, France, Englandand in front of live TV audiences with millions of viewers.

A sampling of the reviews:

"The Carmen was Ginger Costa-Jackson, a ravishing mezzo-soprano from Italy, just 24, who easily conveyed the allure and willful recklessness of Bizet's Gypsy temptress. Her voice has dark, rich colorings and considerable body." – New York Times

"Giinger Costa–Jackson brought a sultry fierceness and a husky vocal timbre to the title role [Carmen]." – Wall Street Journal.

"You sat up and looked twice when Ginger Costa-Jackson, a mere slip of a woman who closely resembles Angelina Jolie, started to sing Miriam, Moses' sister. She has an extraordinary, rich mezzo. …" — Berkshire Fine Arts.

"Ginger Costa-Jackson already delivers star power and a very well-sung Carmen. With careful development I could see her becoming the world's gypsy-of-choice in short order. Physically, she is slim, beautiful, and muy caliente. Her dark-toned mezzo is able to suggests a sexy huskiness in the low range all the while retaining a cleanly focused placement, witness her ringing, zinging top notes." — Opera Today.

This is all heady stuff for young performer, but Jackson makes a point of saying, "I didn't do this to become famous; there's another reason I'm doing this."

In her youth, she was a self-described geek. Intense and focused, she played the violin, earned straight A's and never dated. She wore glasses and no makeup and pulled her hair back tightly against her head, covering both ears. She topped off the look with a dowdy wardrobe. She didn't allow herself to stop at her locker between classes at Alta High — that might make her late — so she carried all her books in her backpack all day long.

"I didn't care what people thought," she says. "I was there to study."

Her father, Walt, who sang in quartets at BYU, met his wife, Emilia, while they were both teaching at the Mission Training Center at BYU. Emilia, who had studied opera, had emigrated from her native Italy at the age of 20 after joining the LDS Church. She spoke only Italian in the house and her children didn't speak English until they began school. Walt and Emilia raised three daughters — in order, Ginger, Miriam and Marina — and all of them pursued the arts. Ginger was a violinist, Miriam an opera singer and Marina a ballerina. They eventually settled in Sandy, where Walt taught high school seminary classes.

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