Person of Interest & FemFocused Interviews

FemFocused: Alexandra Nowakowski

Welcome to the month of March m’dears, which happens to be Women’s History Month. I’ve already begun seeing many tributes (I’m particularly loving this collab happening in Philly) to strong, powerful, and incredible women, and I want to be part of the action. Throughout the month of March, I am going to continue highlighting women through the FemFocused series, but I’m going to be sharing the stories of women who I have personal connections with.

Please welcome soprano Alexandra Nowakowski!

Gosh, where to begin with my love and admiration for Alex… She is one of the loveliest people you could ever meet. She has a fantastic eye for photography as depicted on her Instagram. She just also so happens to be an incredibly, insanely talented coloratura soprano. There’s a lot to be in awe of about Alex, and I am thrilled to be highlighting her today.

Rachel Bires Photography
Cutie pic of Alex and I

Tell us about your Polish heritage and how that impacts you as an opera singer. 

I am incredibly proud to be Polish-American. My parents came here from Poland in 1980 as political refugees, escaping the incredibly tense climate of an authoritarian communist government. They had little resources and almost no family, leaving everything behind. I cannot imagine the courage it must have taken to leave the home you’ve known since childhood and adopt a completely new language and culture.

My dad worked as a hotel bellhop and my mom worked at Jack-in-the-Box when they first came here, sleeping on apartment floors which they both recall were unkempt and cockroach-ridden. Prejudice towards Poles was also still running high in America at this time, as Poles were often stereotyped as uneducated and prone to thievery. My parents’ Polish university degrees meant nothing in the states, so they both had to get American degrees, and luckily were able to do so after about a decade establishing themselves (my dad was still in school when I was born in 1992). We always had what we needed growing up, but there were definitely times when things were tight.

Despite any hardships, my parents made sure to instill Polish culture into the lives of my brother and I. We both went to Polish school every Saturday, and our family in Poland helped us come back every summer to be with them. We would stay for months at a time. Honestly, I’ll never forget the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and that is my Polish culture. I know exactly where I come from – I’ve seen my family trees in Poland spanning back hundreds of years. My family has lived through wars, depressions, and scarcity.

My only mission in life is to make them proud, and hopefully I can through pursuing opera. When I step out on stage, I stand there for all immigrants, not just Poles. I am the daughter of immigrants, and I hope through my singing I can bring more attention to the importance of immigration and the American dream.

What is the day-to-day life of an opera singer like? 

So this actually changes every day. Currently, I’m finishing up my residency as a Cafritz Young Artist with the Washington National Opera, so my schedule is relatively predictable. I’ll have language lessons in either German or Italian, a voice lesson, and probably a coaching or two. Not too different from my days at the Academy of Vocal Arts when I was a student there.

If I have a performance at night, my daytime schedule may be lighter (a language lesson and short coaching, for example), and then I’ll have to get to the event venue early to set up, test out the space, and just get focused. I love performing, so every chance I have to do a gig, no matter how small, I’ll take.

It just happens to be that at this time, my gigs are usually for Ambassadors and extremely prominent DC society. Sometimes I’m in awe of the places and people this program has led me to. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a huge opera fan and has actually been to some of my performances. She is a national hero, and she comes to the opera house that I work for – I mean that is actually insane. A couple weeks ago the Cafritz Young Artists and I performed Menotti’s opera “The Consul” at the Supreme Court, and afterwards we got to visit Justice Ginsburg in her chambers. I just wanted to hug her and cry and thank her for everything she has done for women. Don’t worry, I kept my cool!

You’re one of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow, and we have spent many a moment chatting about content creation. Can you describe your content creating process? 

I treat my Instagram like a personal photo album I would keep at home. What images will I want to see when I look back on my experience some day? What quotes have inspired me lately? Do they relate to the photo I’m posting? If I had a fancy camera, what sort of photo would I take? I love capturing details of the places I’m lucky to go, and try to have that be my main source of insta-inspo.

Rachel Bires Photography

You’ve recently delved into the world of Tiktok – what do you think this app can do in terms of promo for singers?

Connect with the youths!! Seriously, I think a huge flaw in the opera world right now is not having a PR team working with EVERY opera house and diving into all that social media offers us. We need to bring opera to the people. They will come after we show them what it is. I’m excited to explore the possibilities on TikTok – I’m thinking of starting mini voice-lesson videos, info about opera videos or just backstage adventures. I just want the youths to know that we are thinking about them, and while it can be fun to listen to Kesha’s Cannibal for the 1000th time, maybe what you’re missing in your life is a little classical music relaxation. I’ll be there singing them 15 second vids!

How did you achieve love for your body? Performers are always faced with more scrutiny about looks – how do you overcome any insecurities? 

Ugh, always, always, always. I have pretty much had cellulite for as long as I can remember. I remember hating my body so much in high school – why couldn’t I be stick thin, or have a straighter nose, or perfect abs? It’s insane the kind of pressure teenage girls put themselves through, and that was in 2009 before the boom of social media. Gen Z must experience a whole other level of pressure.

What I want these young girls (and boys) to know is that your body is so much more than a vehicle for someone else’s pleasure, whether that be objectifying you or wanting you to believe you’re not enough so they can sell you the winning product that will fix you. Your thighs are thick because they are STRONG, they hold you up and they take you from point A to point B.

My nose is big and crooked because my parents are from Poland, and we Poles have all sorts of crazy noses – and now I am PROUD of that fact. My tummy isn’t tight because yes I will have that scoop of ice cream or piece of cheese for dessert. Also, my core literally supports my opera singing now! I could die tomorrow. I can’t go to my grave starving myself on the ice cube diet trying to make myself into something society tells me I should be. Basically, I started blocking out all the propaganda, and started deciding what it is I, Alex Nowakowski, really believe. I don’t know who said this first, but I try to treat myself like I would my own daughter. 

What women inspire you?

It goes without saying that my mom takes first place here. She’s so tough, and she’s definitely where I get my ‘take no sh*t’ attitude from. As far as the opera world goes, Maria Callas was one of my biggest inspirations when I was just starting out. Something about her voice and artistry just enchanted me, and now after years of studying I understand why. It’s fascinating that even my untrained 18-year-old ear could tell that she was communicating something, even though at the time I didn’t know the language or opera she was singing. She is who inspires me in terms of commitment to my art.

If we’re talking modern women, I actually have to say that Meghan Markle has been super inspiring lately. I think she was very brave when she decided to leave the whole Royal thing behind for the sake of her children. She has faced so much scrutiny for it from the press, but she clearly knows what she wants and she is a fierce mama bear! Like I said before too, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my biggest heroes. Women as a whole would be so behind if it wasn’t for the monumental work she did for us during her career. I will forever feel indebted and moved by her contribution to women as a whole, and am constantly inspired by her drive and ferociousness.

Where can we see you perform? What engagements do you have coming up?

I’m so very lucky to have some exciting performances on the horizon. First on the docket is a recital of Polish music with the Embassy Series in Washington, D.C, which will actually be at the Residence of the Polish Ambassador. Definitely a “full circle” recital for me. In the summer, I’ll be joining the Wolf Trap Opera again for a couple exciting events – a song concert with Steven Blier and the role of Hilde Mack in Henze’s An Elegy for Young Lovers. The Henze opera will truly be a beast to behold, for both singer and audience member. It’s some of the hardest music I’ve ever learned, and I cannot wait to get to that point where we are sharing it with the world.

Where can we follow you online? 

Please give me a follow! I’d love to hear from anyone interested in learning more about opera, or who just wants to chat. Social media is such a great place to make meaningful connections these days.

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