Why I sing OPERA

Last year, I returned to the stage after a ten year break. I did three shows – Edward II, Sound of Music, and O’er the Ramparts. One was a cabaret style frame for a straight play, in which I improvised a character, Sally Fitzgerald Kelly, owner and proprietor of the Black & White Bar. The second was a classic musical, and the third a world premiere musical. And then in June of this year, I did another musical, Music Man, in which I played Mrs. Paroo. This show had a special significance to me – it was the first show I was ever in, as a chorister at Hamilton High School.

Doing musicals was what I intended to do when I went into music. I loved all the classic musicals. But when I went to college, that wasn’t the direction I was steered toward. There were no musical theater degree programs in those days. Everything was classical. So, I wound up being an opera singer, with my first professional gig right out of college with the Florentine Opera in Carmen. And I put aside musicals for the longest time – I sang for 7 seasons with Washington Opera (now Washington National Opera), I did Gilbert & Sullivan with the Young Vic in Baltimore and Victorian Lyric in DC, I sang with Wolf Trap Opera, Washington Concert Opera, Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia, and then when I came to Wisconsin, I did a couple of shows with Lyric Opera of Chicago, toured with Opera for the Young out of Madison, did a show with Dupage Opera Theater, with Chicago Opera Theater, three shows with Skylight, and then…. everything stopped.  We won’t discuss why. but it did.

But last weekend, I returned to the opera stage as Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro with Carroll Opera Theater. And I felt at home again. So – why do I sing opera when musical theater was my dream?

I sing opera because musical theater wasn’t an option back when I was in college. Not only because of the way education was structured in those days, but because the musicals on Broadway were dance-oriented. And in the case of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express, you had to be able to skate. I was neither a dancer nor a skater. So it wasn’t an option.

I sing opera because that’s the way my voice seems to work. I don’t have a timbre that lends itself to pop-y musical theater. It works with the legit stuff, and I intend to continue to pursue those kinds of roles. But I remember buying sheet music for a Stevie Nicks song and taking it home to play on the piano. As I sang, “Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom,” I stopped and said to myself, “I sound… stupid!” And I’d never had a voice lesson at that point. It wasn’t a question of being overtrained and losing my natural sound. My natural sound IS classical.

But most of all, I sing opera because I love opera. And I’d forgotten how much I love opera. I’m waitlisted for Washington National Opera chorus and I am kicking myself up and down the block for not making myself available for Carmen. I don’t know if that would’ve made a difference in their casting decisions – but I’ve done the show twice before, and doing it again would be sheer heaven. It’s a lot of work, true. But I’d love it.

And although I identify as a voice teacher who is a musical theater specialist and I do love musical theater and want to continue having it as part of my life, I am an opera singer.

Has musical theater been a boon or a detriment to my return to the opera stage?

  • Musical theater has enhanced my performing. Having done dialogue has improved my ability to do recitative in a way that doing recitative never did for me doing dialogue.
  • Although for awhile it seemed that my operatic resonance had retreated because of all the work I’d been doing in contemporary commercial music as a teacher, I have found the balance and I don’t sound like a musical theater singer when I’m singing opera (and vice versa).
  • The staging I did for my studio showcases in Milwaukee has improved my own acting in a way that years of performing at places like the Kennedy Center never did.

I’m hoping that more of this is ahead – although my next gig is Madame Dilly in Bernstein Remembered in NYC in October. But I’m coming up with a list of roles that I can see myself doing in both genres, which may be my next blog.

Because I will be blogging more. Count on it.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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