I am often asked how and when I got started singing opera. When I did interviews for La Traviata, it came up a bit. The story isn’t as crazy or unlikely as some singers I know, but I will tell it anyway. There are many ways that people find what they love to do, and who’s to say my way is boring!
My family was definitely musical. There are nine siblings in our family (I am number 7) and our parents both play piano and organ. My Grandma played piano and organ at a very high level, had perfect pitch, composed and arranged music, and led many church services and musical performances throughout her life. I am sure it was partly her influence that gave my mom her love of music, and I remember our house being flooded with lovely piano and orchestral music on CD. My parents didn’t really have an interest in opera, but they both loved to sing. We sang together as a family in church, and many of us took piano lessons. All of this was just fun, on an amateur level, but it was good for me. To this day I am sure my ear for harmonies came from singing the hymns with my sisters and trying to make up my own line!
When I was around age 11, almost 12, my older sisters decided they wanted to take voice lessons. They wanted to make it into All-state choir and get leads in their High School musicals, and so we found Leigh Maclay, a great local teacher. Even though I was a bit young, I started lessons too. Leigh was wonderful at luring me in to classical music. We started with the usual Broadway songs: Somewhere over the Rainbow, My favorite things, Summertime. Gradually, she started having me sing simple art songs and folk songs, singing in Italian and even German. I loved the beautiful melodies and especially the songs with high notes. I took a short break from lessons when I was around 14, as we had moved to a town farther away from Leigh and I was enjoying ballet lessons. Ballet was definitely good for me, and I learned a sense of grace that did not come naturally. Soon enough, though, I saw that I was the wrong body type for dance and that I missed singing. As soon as I could drive, I was back with Leigh!
Thankfully, Leigh never rushed me into anything too big, but she kept at it and eventually, by the end of high school, we started singing simple arias. I didn’t even really know what opera was, but I knew I loved the music we sang. Finally, I went to see my first opera sometime in high school. Leigh had Opera Colorado tickets she wasn’t using, and offered them to me and my mom. It was Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, a somewhat daunting opera. I enjoyed it very much! Though I didn’t get many of the little jokes in the prologue and I am sure the story made no sense to me, the overall beauty of the production and music impressed me greatly. By that time I was figuring out where I wanted to apply to college and what I wanted to study. I was taking a lot of AP classes and could have picked a “smart” career, but I could not shake my love of singing. I tried out for Rice and Eastman and Peabody, and the rest is history (or maybe another blog post!). I must say, my family has really supported my singing. At any major performance, there are liable to be a couple of Zmoleks! My mother learns all about whatever opera I am working on and supports me in any way she can. I am very blessed to have such a lovely family! And on those rare occasions when we are all together, I love to sing 4 part harmony with my sisters!