Tabula Rasa Artist Interview: Petra Jarrar

Singer & songwriter Petra Jarrar is recording her debut pop album and also creating the role of Juliette in the world premiere of TABULA RASA, a new jazz opera by Felix Jarrar & Bea Goodwin that tells the feminist story of one of the most iconic women of 1920s Paris: Kiki de Montparnasse. Petra talks about her diverse performing experiences, character study as a way of drawing in the audience, and learning to drive!

May 4, 5, 11, and 12th @ 8pm

Blue Building

222 E 46th St., NYC

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

My name is Petra Jarrar, and I am playing Juliette in Felix and Brittany’s opera, Tabula Rasa. I’m also Felix’s younger sister!

Many people in this cast have labeled me to be a “Popera Star,” which I find so endearing and amusing. I’m a singer/songwriter based out of NYC. I’ve gotten to tour all over the world together from Japan to the GRAMMYs. Currently, I’m in the process of recording my debut album, slated to be released later this year. However, I grew up as a trained classical pianist, and I love going back to my roots. As a kid, Felix exposed me to the wonderful world of opera, and I was hooked. Along with our piano teacher, Felix and I would go see productions at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Tanglewood almost every other week. When he began writing his own works and producing them, Felix would always ask me to help, whether it was something behind the scenes or just assist the cast the day of the show. Over time, I began to work very closely with Felix and Bea on various productions. As our working relationship progressed, I began to express to him my interest in participating in his productions. I’ve gotten the chance to perform as a chtonic nymph, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and now, Juliette the Jazz Singer in Tabula Rasa.

Do you remember what your first opera was? And what your reaction was?

My first opera was Marriage of Figaro. I believe I was about six years old. I remember being so excited by the whole experience. The costumes, the music and the singers were dazzling. I couldn't look away.

All of the characters in Tabula Rasa are based on actual historical figures. What did you know about your character prior to working on Tabula Rasa, and how did you go about preparing the role?

I actually knew very little about Kiki’s friends before taking on the role of Juliette. It wasn’t until Bea told me about her inner circle of female friends that I began to learn about my character. Juliette was one of Kiki’s best friends alongside Thérèse, and often would help Kiki make her costumes and do her makeup. She also performed with her frequently, and made appearances wherever she would go around the slinky streets of Montparnasse. I’ve spent the last few weeks researching as much as I can about Kiki and just started reading her memoir that she wrote at the prime age of 28. I’ve been really interested in knowing more about Kiki and her friendships, and her experiences of life outside of her world as a model, because my character, just like her group of friends, played a huge part her world at Montparnasse’s most famous woman.

Photo credit: Joyce Yin

Photo credit: Joyce Yin

Photo credit: Joyce Yin

Photo credit: Joyce Yin

What's was the most surprising thing you learned about life in the 1920s?

At first, when Brittany told me that women could not be served in cafes and restaurants if they were unaccompanied or if they didn't wear hats, I thought it was more or less a joke. It was surprising to me to find this to be true, and that why I find Kiki's "Hat Song" to be one of the most fitting introductions to her. Right off the bat, we see her combating the social norms of women in Montparnasse, and that's why I love her.

What are some of the rewards of working on a new work? What are the challenges?

Being able to tell a story that no one has before is such a unique and amazing opportunity. It’s an honor in many ways, to be have the space and creativity to bring a new work to fruition. However, the challenge with that is ensuring that the audience understands the little nuances, moves and motions of the work that we’ve familiarize ourselves with since we’ve been living with Tabula Rasa for almost a year now. This is where character study came into one of the utmost important things for me as I took on the role of Juliette. I wanted the audience with the little time they have to go away feeling like the know my character on a deep and personal level, and find something that resonates with them about her.

What is your greatest non-artistic achievement?

Oh, that’s easy! It was a recent one. I started to learn how to drive, and I didn’t kill anyone on the road. I think that’s a pretty awesome feat if I do say so myself.

Congrats on learning how to drive! What would be your dream road-trip to take?

Thank you! I'm pretty excited. If I could drive anywhere...hmm. I would love to drive to Los Angeles. I'd get to treat myself to entire tour of the United States while I'm at it.

Photo credit: Orlando Mendiola

Photo credit: Orlando Mendiola

Name a trashy TV show you secretly love.

Love and Hip Hop. I wouldn’t have ever learned about my girl Cardi B otherwise.

In one sentence, why do you hope people come to see Tabula Rasa?

I hope people come to see Tabula Rasa to learn about the mysterious life led by Kiki de Montparnasse, and give her a chance to finally have her story heard on a platform that was once seldom told... I want everyone to be talking about Kiki!