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Marina Costa-Jackson pursues singing passion, wins awards at Placido Domingo’s Operalia 2016

Rising opera soprano and Utah native Marina Costa-Jackson recently competed in Placido Domingo’s Operalia and took home two world-class awards after placing first in the Zarzuela Aria competition and second in the Opera Aria competition.

“I was really honored and surprised to have won,” Costa-Jackson, 29, said in an interview.

Costa-Jackson was born into a musically gifted family. With an Italian mother who instilled the love of opera into each of her children and a father who was a member of barbershop quartets and heavily involved in musical theater, music constantly surrounded the trio of Costa-Jackson sisters. Costa-Jackson said she had “the best of both worlds.”

The youngest Costa-Jackson sister, Miriam, was the first to start singing opera when she was just 11 years old. The oldest sister, Ginger, followed suit about a year and a half later, but Costa-Jackson decided to pursue ballet, as she wanted to be different from her sisters.

After earning her associate degree at Salt Lake Community College, Costa-Jackson was unsure in what area of study to continue her education. Clarity came one night while she was listening to her sisters give a private concert for family members in Italy.

“I remember thinking to myself, the way that they are singing, the way that their voices fill up a room, and … the vibrations play with the air around our ears, it’s just so loud and beautiful,” Costa-Jackson said. “I’ll never feel so passionate about anything else.”

Costa-Jackson, who was raised in Sandy, went on to study vocal performance at Utah State University and the University of Utah and attend the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

“(Music) brings me closer to my family,” Costa-Jackson said. “I have my two other sisters who are singers as well. When we are able to make music together, that’s the ultimate experience. … My parents, always, from the very beginning, they’ve been the ones who have supported us through the whole thing.”

Costa-Jackson was chosen out of 2,000 applicants to compete in Placido Domingo’s Operalia 2016 with 40 other singers in a preliminary round in Guadalajara, Mexico. After successfully making it through the preliminary round, a quarterfinal round and a semifinal round, Costa-Jackson competed in the final round of the competition and took the first-place prize for zarzuela arias, which have Spanish roots, and second-place for opera arias.

The competition was broadcast worldwide, and each singer was judged by a jury made up of hiring directors from some of the top operas around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera and the Monaco Opera.

Aside from winning a monetary prize, Costa-Jackson said that the increased exposure, recognition from the jury and the potential to get hired in renowned opera houses around the world was “already a prize in and of itself.”

This wasn’t the first time Costa-Jackson has been recognized for her talent. In 2015, she won first place in the Metropolitan National Council Auditions, the Licia-Albanese Puccini Foundation International Vocal Competition and the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition.

For the past two years, Costa-Jackson has had the opportunity to perform with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden and perform with her sisters in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Costa-Jackson has a word of advice for aspiring opera singers. She stresses the importance of each artist's unique interpretation of a piece, as she says those individual expressions of the music are the only way a singer will be recognized.

“Despite all the things that you think you need to work on and need to be better at, you need to remember why you did it,” Costa-Jackson said. “You need to remember the love you have for it, and most importantly when you’re out there on stage, you need to show the love that you have for it by giving it 100 percent, putting your whole heart and soul into it.”

For the 2016-17 opera season, she will be singing the role of Mimi in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of "La Boheme." She will also be performing as Mimi with Opera Cologne and Welsh National Opera, with more performances in Paris and St. Petersburg. For the 2017-18 opera season, she is scheduled to perform in "Cosi Fan Tutte" with the Seattle Opera and "La Traviata" with the Austin Lyric Opera.

“I really feel like I couldn’t do anything else in my life that would make me feel as satisfied, to be able to do what I love,” Costa-Jackson said. “Sometimes I just feel like I want to explode when I’m listening to (music) because it’s just so beautiful, so moving, so touching and inspired. I feel like it’s something that’s so deeply ingrained in who I am.”