Sharleen Joynt isn't your typical opera singer. In Sky on Swings, the world-premiere opener of Opera Philadelphia's opera festival O18, the coloratura soprano plays an adult child of a woman with Alzheimer's, who is played by the esteemed mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson.
Joynt arrived at her career in the traditional way. She grew up studying classical music, honed her craft in graduate school, then lived and performed abroad before moving home to Canada to take part in a young artists' program. Then, she moved to New York, winning awards and acclaim along the way. Hardworking, smart, poised, undeniably talented, and glamorous, she's on track for megastardom.
Although in one way, she's already got that. Outside of opera, Joynt is known for her appearance on Season 18 of The Bachelor, viewed by tens of millions who may never see her onstage.
Joynt didn't merely appear on that 2014 season of The Bachelor. She disrupted it.
On week one of the reality show, soccer player-bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis bestowed the coveted "first impression" rose upon Joynt. Clearly, he was smitten. But by week seven, she was clearly not. Citing the slow progress of their relationship (and suggesting he was not her mental match), Joynt left Galavis midseason. "Bachelor Nation" would never be the same.
Here, she holds forth on her coming performance, what she loves most about Philly, how she balances a career in opera with reality-TV celebrity, and why there's so little crossover between her two kinds of fans.
This week the second-ever Festival O begins. How did you become part of it?
I live in New York, where I heard whisperings of Philly making big moves in the opera scene. Your city is really hot right now. But, it's not until you get here that you see how vibrant it is.
Sky on Swings is getting raves, and it hasn't been performed yet. What's your take on the story line?
Sky on Swings is very powerful. It creatively gives you a look at Alzheimer's from the inside out.
There are humorous moments, moments that it's so painful that it's funny. There are beautiful moments and poignant moments. And in the confusion, you can see beauty, even if it doesn't make sense to us. The work asks: If you can find happiness within Alzheimer's, is it less valid?
And you play Winnie?
I play Martha's daughter, and Martha is played by Marietta Simpson. My character represents family members who have witnessed Alzheimer's.
As the opera progresses, you can see Winnie becoming more and more disconnected. She's doing the best she can, but sometimes her impatience will get the best of her. It's hard to reason with someone with Alzheimer's.
Has anyone in your life had the disease?
My grandfather, who is in a veterans home now, has dementia. It's not Alzheimer's, but I can pull on some personal experience. Then again, since I don't live at home in Ottawa, I can only imagine what it's like to be there every single day.
But what's crazy about this disease is, it really does affect everyone.
You've been staying in Philly. What's fun for you to do here?
I've been here just about three weeks. The restaurant scene here is so good, it's ridiculous. When my husband comes to visit, we eat out. We've loved The Love. Vedge, Vernick, and Zahav. If those same restaurants were in New York City, they would be 50 percent more expensive.
Opera is something you've worked on for years. How did you end up on The Bachelor"?
First, I was a guilty-pleasure watcher. I remember in school on Monday nights, that was my little ritual. But I watched passively. I didn't think: Oh, one day, that will be me. It was just one of the shows on my rotation.
When I decided to go on, I was at a point in my career when it was all career, career, career. I was putting all my energy into work, making a lot of personal sacrifices. I found myself pretty unhappy. I didn't have a complete social life. …
When you went on, you stood out for being so authentic, so honest. When you told Juan Pablo you were just not that into him, some viewers cheered aloud.
It was pretty incredible the amount of response I got for just speaking my mind. It was fascinating to me, how people were like, thank god.
How did being on reality TV impact your career?
That's something I've been asking myself for years. I don't know if I'll ever know the answer to that. The show aired right before I moved back to North America, after I had really established myself in Germany.
There were a couple of years that I thought maybe it had been a bad choice. My husband thinks that it was. All I know is I worked really hard before the show and since the show, and I've had to prove myself like anyone else. You go on that show and it can sort of transform your life.
With opera, it either didn't do anything or it hurt a little bit.
But you still maintain connection to "The Bachelor" by blogging about it.
I run a fashion lifestyle blog, and I also recap the show from an insider's perspective. I'll dissect the editing and the lighting and things like that.
I love that part of my blog, but don't know if I would want to do it year-round. As long as I'm singing and I'm pursuing my career, it's a fun thing to do on the side.
Think you've converted some "Bachelor" fans into opera fans?
Most of the young people I've gotten to know through the show have never even been to the opera. This is something that was jarring to me, someone who grew up studying classical music.
I never went on the show with the intention of bridging the cultural gap. But I do think there's genuine curiosity there. On my blog, I'll post my performance of "Glitter and Be Gay," which they might respond to or recognize. I'll post anything that gets it in their ear.