Dawn Upshaw’s singing career has been as breathtaking as they come.
Since her professional start with the Metropolitan Opera in 1984, she has made nearly 300 appearances with the company, has performed in innumerable acclaimed recitals and in leading opera roles across Europe and the U.S., and has collaborated with many of the world’s most renowned musicians. She has had operas created specifically for her. And she is also a four-time Grammy winner who has appeared on more than 50 recordings.
In the last decade, however, Upshaw’s growing interest in more intimate forms of music-making has led her to forge a career away from the opera house.
On Tuesday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. the Hawaii Concert Society will present Upshaw in concert at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center. Her diverse program will include songs spanning two centuries, by Franz Schubert, Charles Ives, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok and William Bolcom.
One might think that becoming a world-renowned soprano could only be the grand fulfillment of a lifelong mission.
Dawn Upshaw must have been drawn to classical music at an early age and groomed for the position like some thoroughbred athlete.
“Not at all!” says a bemused Upshaw, who was raised in the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Ill. “I grew up with folk music. My father played guitar and sang, and both my parents were active in the civil rights movement. We sang Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger songs, marched, and organized community events.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with classical music or opera. It was stiff museum music to me, until I really realized what the music was capable of expressing emotionally. Which was around the time I really started studying.”
Her studies began with high school singing and were followed by music school at Illinois Wesleyan, which led her to the Manhattan School of Music. Her official arrival came with the winning of the 1984 Young Concert Artist Auditions and a subsequent invitation by James Levine to join the Metropolitan Opera Studio. That was “a golden egg dropping in my lap,” recalls the singer, who also won the prestigious Walter M. Naumburg Competition the following year. From there stardom in major operas at the Met and elsewhere came with blinding speed.
Although Upshaw has been called America’s foremost operatic ambassador, she is not a typical opera diva. Among the things that set her apart are a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, her election as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and her love of performing in small ensembles.
Tickets are $25 general, $20 for seniors, and $12 for students and are available at the Most Irresistible Shop, Book Gallery, the East Hawaii Cultural Center, Music Exchange, and the UHH Performing Arts Center Box Office. Tickets will also be available on the evening of the concert at the UHH Box Office, from 6:45 p.m.