“She’s got vocal chords of gold,” was the phrase used to introduce me to The Chorus of Westerly’s lead soprano soloist, Teresa Wakim, in its production of A Celebration of Twelfth Night.
The production is a Rhode Island tradition dating back to 1975 and is based on an original and new script written each year. Since 2009, the productions have interwoven the subplots of four different kingdoms. This year, Wakim’s character will help those subplots culminate into one final story arc with a dramatic conclusion.
Wakim is a smiling, effervescent woman with wide green eyes. It’s hard to be in a bad mood around her, and there’s a reason for it. “If I have a bad day I leave it at home,” Wakim said. “I try to be as professional and friendly as possible.” This is evident as she laughs frequently during our interview while retaining an air of grace and intelligence beyond her years.
A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a Grammy Nominee, Wakim plays Ayla, a nineteen-year-old who is destined to bring about the end of the dark god Kaos. “I was moved by the fact that she is so young, and that her power comes from really positive things, like forgiveness and seeing the good in everyone,” Wakim said. “There’s plenty of powerful male characters in this production, and she is the one who saves the world.”
A Celebration of Twelfth Night has many powerful women working behind the scenes. Production manager Aimee Blanchette, choreographer Robin Rice, and two-thirds of the costume design team (Sally Tchantz-Dwyer, Stephanie Traversa, and Andrew Lidestri) are some of the masters behind the magic. There is also a team of all-girl dancers and gymnasts ranging in age from ten to twenty.
“Having such young children in the production, I do feel some responsibility to make them feel comfortable and to stay positive when rehearsals are stressful,” Wakim said. “To show them that we can accomplish so much together and have a really good time too. We stay upbeat, and enjoy every moment of it.”
Staying upbeat is Wakim’s motto, even when confronted with self-marketing. “Opera singers get a bad rap for being divas, but I try to stay true to who I am,” Wakim said. “It’s not about being the star; it’s about the people you meet along the way, and the art you get to make with them. I think it’s important not to lose track of who you really are when you’re given these life-changing opportunities. ”
I had to ask Wakim’s opinion on the tasteless colloquialism, “it’s not over till the fat lady sings.” She just laughed and said, “I think that’s so funny! I’m thankful that I’m a singer, that I have this talent. I think you need to be proud of what your body can do, whatever shape or size it is. Like the gymnasts and dancers who work so hard to do these incredible things; they are all so sweet. I just stand backstage giving hugs!” Like Ayla herself, Wakim makes the world shine a little bit brighter just by touching the hearts of those around her – not only with her stunning voice, but with her equally beautiful personality.