J’Nai Bridges’ senior year of high school she was faced with a dilemma. A choice that would alter the course of her life, she had to decide between music or basketball. As the caption of her basketball team, her heart was set on a career in sports. Missing an arts elective she decided to sign up for the choir. Her parents loved music and she grew up singing in church, but her teacher noticed a natural talent for classical voice and suggested that she invest in some private training. Soon she had booked her first performance, Tosca at the Tacoma Opera. Up until that point she had found a way to balance the two. Her first opera happened to take place around the time of a major basketball game. She had worked out that immediately after rehearsals she would drive herself 2 hours to the game. She made it on time but her coach was not okay with her splitting her time and decided to bench Bridges.
“That day changed my life because I was kind of forced to choose in a way… I could have kept playing but music was just more important.” Bridges said.
It was then, at that moment that Bridges jumped head first into classical voice. Slightly late in the game she began applying to music schools. Her Junior year in college she began to see herself progress rapidly. Rising up from the bottom of her class. Realizing that she had what it took to really become a classical vocalist. Although still early in her career now her name is recognized and her performances are praised. Bridges returns to LA this season for the role of Kasturbai in the West Coast premiere of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha. She prepared for this performance through a process of translating the Sanskrit text and interpreting the emotions of the character while memorizing the music. For Bridges, this performance is unlike any other.
“This Opera the whole thing is in slow motion, we have spent rehearsals just walking.”Bridges went on to say “My favorite thing [about this performance] is that there are so many people of color on stage, I am usually the only one, or maybe there is two, but because this is about Gandhi they have really done an amazing job at casting Indian people and people of color, because this took place in South Africa. They just did an amazing job at casting this.”
J’Nai Bridges Biography and Profile
J’Nai Bridges, a native of Tacoma, Washington, was born 6 February 1987. In 1987, when Bridges was just a few months old, the family moved from Hawaii — where’d they’d been stationed for Paris’s military job — to Lakewood, a suburb of Tacoma. In the living room, they found a baby grand piano that did not belong to them. It had been left there, it seemed, by the previous owner. A week went by, then a month. No one came to collect it. Soon, it had been two years. “It was taking up space,” says Pamela. By then, Bridges was 2, and though she was too small to crawl onto the stool without her parents’ help, she was constantly at the piano. “It never sounded like random notes,” says Pamela. “It sounded melodic.” Shortly after, they signed her up for lessons.
Known for her “plush-voiced mezzo-soprano” (The New York Times), has been heralded as “a rising star” (Los Angeles Times), gracing the world’s top stages in repertoire ranging from traditional favorites to world premieres to spirituals and standards. Her 2019-20 season includes seven house debuts and two role debuts, including her much-anticipated house debut at The Metropolitan Opera.
J’Nai Bridges has received critical acclaim for her “lush mezzo and a defiant ferocity” (The Wall Street Journal), her “calmly commanding stage presence” (The New Yorker), her “tone full of burnished amber and smoldering heat” (San Francisco Chronicle), her “alluringly dusky voice and fiery temperament” (Chicago Tribune), and her “rich, dark, exciting sound” (Opera News).
Operatic engagements in the U.S. this season include her debut at The Metropolitan Opera, singing the role of Nefertiti in Philip Glass’ opera Akhnaten, and her house and role debut at Washington National Opera performing Dalila in Samson et Dalila. Bridges will sing the title role of Carmen for the first time in Europe at the Dutch National Opera, and will make her house and role debut with the Festival d’Aix-en-provence singing Margret in a new production of Wozzeck, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
Bridges opens her season with her Tanglewood Festival debut, performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She continues to showcase her concert repertoire by making her debut with San Antonio Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and then performing with the New Jersey Symphony in Handel’s Messiah. Bridges also performs an art song recital with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and closes her season by making her debut at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Chineke! Orchestra and Friends.
Recent opera performance highlights include San Francisco Opera for her house role debut in the title role of Carmen, LA Opera for her role debut as Kasturbai in Philip Glass’ Satyagraha, creating the role of Josefa Segovia in the world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West at San Francisco Opera and again at The Dutch National Opera, a house and role debut at Gran Teatre del Liceu as Federica in Verdi’s Luisa Miller, her debut as Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino with Opernhaus Zürich, a debut at Bavarian State Opera as Bersi in Andrea Chénier; at Los Angeles Opera as Nefertiti in Akhnaten; and at Vancouver Opera as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking; and performances as Carmen in the world premiere of Bel Canto, an opera by Jimmy Lopez, based on the novel by Ann Patchett at the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the title role in The Rape of Lucretia at Wolf Trap Opera; Suzuki in Madama Butterfly at San Diego Opera and Wolf Trap Opera; and Adalgisa in Norma at Knoxville Opera.
Highlights as a soloist include her sold-out Carnegie Hall Solo Recital debut alongside pianist Mark Markham, performances of the mezzo-soprano solo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the L.A. Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel, Bernstein centennial celebrations with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, in Gershwin selections with the New York Philharmonic at the Bravo!
Vail Festival led by Bramwell Tovey, at the Farewell to Christoph Eschenbach concert with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, and with The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center; Ravel’s Shéhérezade with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg, with whom she also was featured in Gershwin works in the orchestra’s inaugural week at the Elbphilharmonie, as well as chamber works with the NDR Symphony cellists; Ravel’s Chansons Medécasses with Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and chamber works with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Art Institute of Chicago. J’Nai was also a featured soloist in the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration at Carnegie Hall, at the Festival de Torroella de Montgrí, and the GRAMMY Salute to Music Legends tribute concert at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
J’Nai Bridges is a recipient of:
- The prestigious 2018 Sphinx Medal of Excellence Award,
- 2016 Richard Tucker Career Grant,
- First prize winner at the 2016 Francisco Viñas International Competition,
- First prize winner t the 2015 Gerda Lissner Competition,
- Recipient of the 2013 Sullivan Foundation Award,
- 2012 Marian Anderson award winner,
- Recipient of the 2011 Sara Tucker Study Grant,
- Recipient of the 2009 Richard F. Gold Grant from The Shoshana Foundation,
- Winner of the 2008 Leontyne Price Foundation Competition.
J’Nai completed a three-year residency with the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, represented the United States at the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and was a Young Artist at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.
J’Nai Bridges earned her Master of Music degree from Curtis Institute of Music, and her Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music.
As J’Nai Bridges continues to perfect her art she looks towards a bright future, hoping to collaborate with artists in different genres and merge opera into mainstream music as well as try her hand at acting. Where practice meets opportunity success will follow.
J’Nai Bridges Biography and Profile (J’Nai Bridges)