Tiffany Brannan is certain of her career as an opera soprano. She is preternaturally poised and professional. She exudes intelligence, charm and elegance when she speaks about her experience and her goals. She handles her interview with a thorough command of her field, the arcane details of its history and repertoire, and a clear understanding of the particular career track she intends to follow. Tiffany Brannan also is 13 years old.
She is already a home-schooled senior in high school, intent on getting into an opera company. “I may not go to college if I can get into an opera company,” said Tiffany. When asked how that could be possible at 13 or 14, Tiffany replied, “Beverly Sills was part of an opera touring company at 16. Adelina Patti, the Italian soprano, made her debut at age 7.”
In speaking of what she intends to accomplish, Tiffany is not merely wishing. She has the résumé and career focus to back up her words. She has already auditioned, in April of this year, for the Arizona Opera Company that holds its season in both Phoenix and Tucson. She has studied voice with Paul Sahuc for six years (at Idyllwild Arts and the University of California, Santa Barbara), and appeared as chorus member, principal understudy, soloist and dancer in the UCSB production of the zarzuela “Luisa Fernanda” by Federico Moreno Torroba. She sang solos in Sahuc’s opera studio at UCSB where he is on faculty.
She has studied tap dancing for three years, ballet privately for one year and in class for eight years, piano for seven and musical theater for one. She has compiled a book, “Top Fifteen Songs for Young Soprani — English Art Songs,” and professionally recorded all 15 songs in the book. She plans to have the book published. It will include her recordings as well as singing tips specifically directed to young singers as well as historical research on the included songs.
Tiffany currently sings in 13 languages, of which Italian is her favorite. She has appeared professionally in musical theater in “Gypsy” as Baby Louise, “Peter Pan” as Tinkerbell, “The King and I” as Princess Ying Yaowlak and “The Music Man” as Amaryllis. At age 6, Tiffany played the leading role of Shazi in the Indio Date Festival’s stage pageant in 2008, the youngest lead in the pageant’s 62-year history. Her existing soprano repertoire, in which she is proficient, includes more than 300 songs in seven languages.
When asked which opera roles she most wants to play, Tiffany provided a list of 17 and the reasons why each role appeals to her. Her top three include Cleopatra from “Giulio Cesare” by George Frideric Handel, Marie from “Le Fille du Regiment” by Gaetano Donizetti and Almirena from “Rinaldo,” also by Handel. Asked about her suitability to play Cleopatra at her young age, Tiffany did not hesitate. “Cleopatra was 14 when she first met Julius Caesar. I love this music as well as the story line. The arias are beautiful and numerous and in every one you get to ornament the second time through, which I love to do. The romance between Cesare and Cleopatra is so charming in this opera … This is my favorite opera and my favorite role.” Reading the reasons Tiffany has for selecting each of the 17 roles, one is struck by her understanding of the piece, its historical context and the role she wants to sing. For her 17th choice, Rose from “Ruddigore” by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan), Tiffany noted, “This operetta, sometimes called ‘The Witch’s Curse,’ is a parody about superstitions in England. It has witches and ghosts, but is hilarious nonetheless. I would like to play the character Rose because, firstly, she is a youthful English maiden. I especially like her because she always carries a little book of etiquette, and won’t even look at a young man who breaks one of the rules, which eliminates almost everyone.”
Tiffany, as one quickly learns from talking with her, has clear views on how operas should be staged. She believes they are best when staged within the historical period for which they were originally intended and not in a modernized setting. She also would like to be involved in staging operas at some point in her career.
When asked what other interests she has, other than her opera career, Tiffany listed writing ballets, which she has done with her younger sister Rebekah, who aspires to be a ballet dancer; writing and publishing both prose and poetry; painting and drawing; reading, especially books about historical times and places; and natural medicine, including herbalism, aromatherapy and homeopathy.
If, in reading this, you become incredulous — that a person of this age could be this accomplished and clear about her career path — hearing Tiffany sing (as she did for the community at a recent Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony) or talking with her (as this reporter did) will convince you of her authenticity, talent and perspective.
Terri Brannan, a teacher by profession, has home-schooled both Tiffany and her sister. “After spending so many years teaching other people’s children about music, I have come to realize that there is no greater joy than to share your own passion with your children,” she said. “I vowed to give both of my children the best training I could find if they wanted to pursue a career in the arts. Since I am a professional flautist, I know how hard it is to make it in this industry … I have always insisted they practice … Tiffany and Rebekah developed a very strong work ethic very early which I believe will serve them well in the future.”