American Soprano Jessica Niles, praised for her “clear intention and thoughtful direction” (Opera Wire) and her “pure and bright timbre and extremely natural expression” (docenotas), is quickly making a name for herself in the baroque and contemporary repertoire. At the Bayerische Staatsoper, Niles performed Schwester Jasmin in the new production of Georg Friedrich Haas’ contemporary opera Thomas as a part of Ja, Mai – das neue festival 2022, and will sing Iris in Claus Guth’s new production of Handel’s Semele in 2023. She began her 2021/22 season featured in the Internationale Händel Festspiele reprising Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo, a role that brought her acclaim for her “crystaline soprano” where she “took Handel’s music by the horns” (Opera Wire). 2021 also marked the return of international performances of Handel’s Aminta e Fillide with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, bringing her portrayal of Aminta which “dazzled and charmed at every turn” (Broadway World Review) to the 40th annual Festival Dans les Jardins de William Christie, The Queen’s Theatre at The Royal Palace of Versailles, the Musée des Impressionnismes, and the Festival Castell de Peralada. Most recently Niles recorded two albums, the first with BR-KLASSIK that has just been released featuring Niles as the soprano soloist in Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Bayerische Rundfunk. The second record with NEOS of contemporary chamber music with the Münchener Kammerorchestre will be released in the season to come, accompanied with a live performance of the works.
Trained in Anne Bogart’s method of Physical Viewpoints, a technique that acts as a medium for thinking about and acting upon movement, gesture, and creative space, Niles is lauded for her “unconditional powerful playing” and as a “vocal emotional force” (Klassik begeistert). In her past seasons as a studio artist at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Niles performed Sandrina in the premiere of Marie-Eve Signeyrole’s new production of Haydn’s L’infedeltà delusa, Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos, Clorinda in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Schwester Jasmin in the new production of Georg Friedrich Haas’ Thomas, Una Voce dal Cielo in Verdi’s Don Carlo, Taumännchen in Hänsel und Gretel, Giannetta in L’elisir d’amore, and Adeliege Waise in Barrie Kosky’s Der Rosenkavalier under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski, to name notable performances.
Born in Virginia, USA, Niles began her musical studies at a young age playing piano, violin, and singing in local, school, and church choirs where her love and knowledge of music and ensemble work began. Mentored by her choir directors, she had the opportunity to sing under the baton of Sir David Willcocks, at the Washington National Cathedral, with the Filene Center Orchestra at Wolf Trap, at Interlochen Arts Camp, and three seasons with the Fairfax Choral Society. Her desire to further her education brought her to split her time between her academic education in Virginia and musical study at Juilliard’s Pre-College Division in New York City with Lorraine Nubar. There she was introduced to opera, traded her violin for classical voice, and began to pursue vocal performance as her primary study. During this time she received awards in local, state, and national classical competitions including being named a YoungArts Foundation finalist, placing 1st in the state of Virginia Lions Club Bland Competition, and receiving a grant from the George London Foundation. In her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia she continued singing regularly in concert choirs and as a soloist, performing sacred and secular repertoire including Rutter’s Requiem with her local chamber orchestra. At her church, she continued to take on more responsibilities as a mentee of the Liturgical Director, leading multiple services weekly in traditional and contemporary music. And in New York City she performed her first operatic role, Belinda in Dido and Aeneas with New York Lyric Opera at Lincoln Center. After three years of study in the Pre-College at Juilliard and three summers studying with pianist Dalton Baldwin at the International Academie d’eté de Nice, she graduated with honors from her local high school and the Juilliard Pre-College Division, and moved to New York City to be a full-time student at Juilliard.
During her time living in New York City Niles made her Carnegie Hall debut performing Handel’s Israel in Egypt with MasterVoices with artists John Holiday and Mikaela Bennett, performing with the Cecilia Chorus at National Sawdust and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at Carnegie Hall, and singing in choirs and ensembles at The Church of St. Paul the Apostle and Church of the Heavenly Rest. In 2019, she was a Gerdine Young Artist at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, covering Monica Dewey as Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Julia Bullock in the premiere Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones, and performed her first Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro) under the baton of Jane Glover and the direction of the late Ed Berkeley at Aspen Music Festival. She also began exploring using the operatic voice in contemporary and collaborative settings. During her work with Les Arts Florissants, she met double-bassist and composer Doug Balliett, and in 2019 premiered his Gawain and the Green Night, a chamber opera, with baroque ensemble ACRONYM. In the following years of 2020 & 2021, she regularly premiered cantatas that Balliett would compose weekly for St. Mary’s Church on Grand Street. Combining movement and voice, Niles performed Meredith Monk’s choreographed work Wa-lie-oh in recital at Juilliard, coached by Janis Brenner, a member of Meredith Monk’s Vocal Ensemble from 1990-2005, and collaborated with dance company Alessandra Corona Performing Works (ACPW) performing a fusion of Handel’s Messiah with new choreography. In the visual arts, Niles collaborated with composer Manuel Sosa and painter Laura Karetzky in recording vocals for a new composition/art exhibition at Brooklyn’s BRIC House. In recital she premiered dramatic chamber works of Manuel Sosa, the song cycle “Open House” by Jack Frerer to text by Beth Ann Fennelly, and ensemble pieces by Benjamin Wenzelberg. In 2018, Niles commissioned and premiered The Opposite of Loneliness: A Chamber Piece for soprano and string quartet. Niles dedicated the work to the activist, playwright, author, and journalist Marina Keegan, whose poetry inspired Niles to reconnect with singer, composer, and conductor Benjamin Wenzelberg in setting her words to music. An advocate for new dramatic works, Niles continues to work closely with composers in workshopping and premiering new opera, cantatas, and song cycles. She has written some of her own compositions, most notably when she was the musical director of Shakespeare’s As You Like It with Columbia School of the Arts. She has also worked as an assistant director, most notably for City Lyric Opera’s production of Menotti’s The Medium.
An alumn of The Juilliard School (Pre-College Division 2015, Bachelor of Music 2019, Master of Music 2021), Niles has received prestigious awards for her leadership and vocal achievements including commencement awards The Peter Menin Prize (2019) and The William Schuman Prize (2021), the Kovner Fellowship (2018-2021), and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis Gaddes Career Award (2019). Niles is also the winner of the 2020 Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recital, where she was selected to present her Goethe’s Mignon/Emily Dickinson recital with collaborator pianist Gracie Francis. Her Juilliard mainstage debut was as Anne Reich in Nicolai’s Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor and her recital debut was made performing Rachmaninoff’s 6 Romances Op.38 coached by the Metropolitan Opera’s Natalia Katyukova. The following summer she made her role debut of Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore with City Lyric Opera and revived the role at Chautauqua Institution, after participating in Houston Grand Opera Young Artist Vocal Academy. During her undergraduate at Juilliard, she performed Eurydice in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Schoenberg’s String Quartet No.2 in Juilliard’s ChamberFest series, and Handel’s Aminta e Fillide with Maestro William Christie and Juilliard’s Historical Perfomance department (Juilliard415) at the Morgen Library & Museum.
With the success of her performance with Juilliard415 began a burgeoning career in the baroque repertoire, and she was invited to perform the aforementioned Handel’s cantata Aminta e Fillide at the 40th annual Festival Dans les Jardins de William Christie in Thiré with Les Arts Florissants. She was invited back for the Les Arts Florissants’ Festival de Printemps in spring of 2020 for a virtual season, and again in 2021 for a live-streamed season performing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Vivaldi’s virtuosic motet In Furore. In her masters degree she focused primarily on baroque repertoire and worked closely with musicians from Juilliard’s Historical Performance Department. In the winter of 2020, she performed Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Juilliard415 in recital and Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo in Alice Tully Hall under the baton of Maestro Nicholas McGegan. The success of this performance led to an invitation to participate in the 2021 Internationale Händel Festspiele in Göttingen, Germany, where she sang arias and duets of Armida and Almirena with the festival orchestra. At Lincoln Center, she performed selections from Handel’s Teseo with Maestro Gary Widow and Juilliard415 in the Lincoln Center Restart Stages initiative, and after years of cancellations she returned to Handel’s cantata Aminta e Fillide on an international tour with Maestro William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performing in the Queen’s Theatre at the Palace of Versailles, at Festival Castell de Peralada, the Musée des impressionnismes Giverny, and the French Consulate in New York City. In January of 2023 she returned to New York City to sing Aminta with longtime friends in their baroque ensemble, Twelfth Night, and in July of 2023 she makes her role debut of Iris in Claus Guth’s new production of Handel’s Semele at the Bayerische Staatsoper.