American soprano Julia Bullock is a force of nature. The expression seems to come up often in conversations, whether with admiring fellow singers or senior composers who have written for one of the most arresting voices of her generation. “Julia Bullock is ravishing as Kitty,” wrote critic Steve Moffatt of the recent Warner Classics account of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic , winner of 2018’s LimelightOpera Recording of the Year. “It would be hard to imagine a better Dame Shirley than Julia Bullock,” I wrote of her performance in Adams’ latest opera, Girls of the Golden West , following its San Francisco premiere. “Her smoothly energised soprano caresses Adams’ lyrical lines while her immaculate diction ensures not a syllable of [her] memorable words are lost.”

Julia Bullock & Davóne Tines in Girls of the Golden West. Photo © Corey Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Force of nature, yes, but also a force of nurture. “The first solo I ever sang in public was a slave song,” Bullock writes in a think-piece for the Metropolitan Museum in New York. “My sister and I performed the song in front of an all-white congregation at my...

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