For Nina Yoshida Nelsen, An American Dream marks her tenth production with Opera Santa Barbara, and the twentieth anniversary of her company debut as Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Nina (pronounced ‘Ny-na’) pursues a busy career as an opera singer, contemporary music champion, and leading advocate for diversity in the performing arts.
A graduate of Santa Barbara High School, Nina went to Boston University to study violin performance. (As it happened, while there she played in the University’s Chamber Orchestra, which was at the time conducted by a young Teaching Assistant named Kostis Protopapas!) Singing opera proved to be her passion, and she went on to study at the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. She has since become a regular performer for the opera companies in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Utah and many more.
Nina has sung in the world premieres of seven new operas. In 2015 she created the role of Hiroko Kobayashi in An American Dream, a role that was partly inspired by the story of her grandmother. “Bringing An American Dream home to Santa Barbara is an incredible honor for me”, said Nina. “The aria I sing in the opera was written specifically for me after the librettist interviewed my grandma about her experiences being incarcerated during WWII. Not only is this opera a privilege for me to share musically, but more importantly, it feels like it is my responsibility to tell Japanese American history that is not often taught in schools. The opportunity to share this story with my community is extremely powerful and poignant to me.”
In addition to her busy career and raising her two boys with her husband Jeff, in recent years Nina has found time in a leading role as an advocate for equity in the arts. She serves as President of the Asian Opera Alliance, an organization she co-founded, and as Artistic Advisor at Boston Lyric Opera. Her advocacy work was covered by Time magazine.
With Opera Santa Barbara Nina was recently seen as Frugola in Il tabarro, the soloist in El amor brujo, and Fricka in Das Rheingold. She will return in April as Fricka in The Valkyrie, and in October as Carmen.
As you can tell, we love and are so proud of Nina! For your enjoyment, here is a short compilation of some of her recent performances with our company.