"In a score full of knockout vocal numbers, nothing quite matched the quietly devastating blow that Darla Wigginton delivered near the end of the evening with "Losing My Mind". Standing on the lip of the Paramount stage, as if riveted in place there by the unfulfilled love of a lifetime, the raven-haired Wigginton made this great torch song a murmurous aria of anguish. The house went still. The heat of full-out confession built. Phrases flamed up and flickered into faraway silence. The greatness of Sondheim's art, felt here in the expansive, aching contours of the music paired with the poignant concision of his lyrics, swamped the listener's heart."
Steve Winn, San Francisco Chronicle
I started out as a classical singer. I really loved it and had some exceptional experiences...and got to enjoy music-making in 80's San Francisco, 90's New York and then back again to enjoy all that was happening musically in the classical world here in S.F. from the 2000's to about 2007...when I hopped over to the burlesque and cabaret world.
But while I was there...hooboy...I didn't realize that I was seeing some of the last-glimpses of old-world glory. The great diva Eva Marton as Turandot only 10 feet from me as I sang in the SF Opera Chorus -- she insisted on wearing the traditional, original Met production costume instead of the David Hockney modern re-envisioning -- she didn't match the production but a diva gets what a diva wants! One of my first glimpses of divadom.
At SF Opera, there were incredibly lush productions like Samson and Delilah that were a joy. This was before productions became predominantly digital. You really felt immersed in a real, historical place -- for instance being onstage with the great Olga Boradina -- getting crushed under (styrofoam) rocks as the walls fell around us after an onstage "orgy" that included the great ballet dancers in the corp de ballet and the entire chorus -- Olga receiving ovations that lasted forever. Or the the extravagant Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Carmen, where I camped it up playing a small part during Denyce Grave's debut as Carmen -- including a dramatic fight scene where she wrestled with me and carved a bloody "X" in my forehead (don't worry...it was food coloring) -- and having an onstage view, watching her tear up the stage with that spectacular style and voice! Even after she broke her foot during a rehearsal...she *still* performed the role and brought down the house.
In New York, singing with the NY Philharmonic as Kurt Masur conducted Carmina Burana during the Democratic Convention of 1994 -- with Walter Cronkite and Yasser Arafat in the audience -- the crowd leaping to its feet at the end in a glorious celebration of the power of great music was a memory I'll treasure forever.
I still enjoy myself singing as a member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and one of the best times I've had onstage recently was the Symphony Gala in 2019, with Nancy Pelosi, London Breed, Gavin Newsom and the cast of Beach Blanket Babylon onstage celebrating the great Michael Tilson-Thomas. What a pleasure to contribute to the voices that celebrate San Francisco's place as a cultural wonder and a brave and proud celebrator of all people -- especially those of us in the LGBTQ+ community.
I've appeared as a member of the Chorus at San Francisco Opera in over 200 shows. Operas include War and Peace, Boris Gudunov, Carmen (as Manuelita), Christophe Colombe (with Derek Jacobi as narrator), Turandot (filmed for PBS), Don Carlo, Arshak II (the first Armenian classical opera), and many more. I was what is called an "extra chorister" -- part of operas that needed hundreds of people onstage. So I got a great view (usually from the back with a farm implement in my hand crying out in a Russian revolution, or as part of the party-goers in La Traviata in sumptuous costumes and wigs). The phenomenal movie about the SF Opera Chorus "In the Shadow of the Stars" really shows what kind of dedication and skill it takes to do that work. For me, I loved being a part of it but also wanted to explore my own voice as a soloist.
As a soloist, I performed with the opera companies of Portland, Connecticut, Illinois, San Jose and Eugene as well as with Natchez Opera Festival, Festival Opera, Ash Lawn-Highland Summer Festival, Opera Barga (Italy), Pocket Opera, Jefferson Performing Arts Society, Oakland Lyric and Oakland Opera Theatre, Lamplighters Music Theatre, Theatreworks, Bronx Opera, West Bay Opera, San Francisco Lyric, Il Piccolo Teatro in Brooklyn, and American Opera Projects.
On the concert stage, I've performed with the San Francisco Symphony (conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas) as Alto Soloist/Courtesan in Le Rossingol, in Falla’s El Amor Brujo, Dvorak's Stabat Mater with Sacramento Choral Society, Mozart's Requiem with Sacramento Philharmonic (conducted by Michael Morgan), Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah and a chamber orchestra production of Handel’s Atalanta as well as concerts and recitals in California, Mississippi, Illinois, New York, Virginia, Vermont and Oregon.
I've always loved acting. And so musical theatre/operetta works are some of my favorite places to be. I've played Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar, Amy in Where's Charley, Tessa in The Gondoliers, the title role in Iolanthe, the Madwoman in the Attic in Jane Eyre, Stepmother in Into the Woods and Liebeslieder/Charlotte (cover) in A Little Night Music. One of my favorite performances was in Stephen Sondheim's Follies (performed at the stunning Paramount Theater in Oakland) with Michael Morgan conducting and fellow performers Rita Moreno, Sharon McNight and Val Diamond. There, I got to meet The Golden Follies, with whom I've performed so many times since. As we say...it was "love at first sequin".
New music is so important, and some of the most extraordinary times I've had, have been working on original pieces with new composers at Theatreworks (Jane Eyre), The Marsh and the SomArts Festival (Carla Lucero's Suor Juana) in the Bay Area and The Friends and Enemies of New Music and American Opera Projects in New York. Works include an original production entitled Flurry Tales (Rusty Magee), which performed at Lincoln Center in New York, staged readings of The Mistress Cycle (by Beth Blatt and Jennifer Gierling), and with multimedia visionary George Coates A Virtual Sho. George was the first to merge live performers within stage environments created by computer-generated graphics in real time live theatre and collaborated with Steve Jobs.
Festival Opera's debut of Ned Rorem's Our Town was another highlight. An idol of mine, the glorious Frederica von Stade came backstage to congratulate Marnie Breckenridge, who was fantastic in the lead role. When Marnie introduced me, Flicka told me she thought I was terrific and I thought I'd fall over from joy.
Another passion project, was working in collaboration with Anja Strauss, Ariela Morgenstern and Lara Bruckmann, creating the group Girlkulture, a classical cabaret performing the music of Holläender, Weill, Spoliansky, Gershwin and Cole Porter, performed concerts and shows at Gunn Theater at the Legion of Honor, Cinnabar Theater, Old First Concerts and many club appearances.
I have such gratitude for the experiences I've had, the artists and creators I've known, and all who bring music and art to the world.