By Kelly Maxwell
Tomorrow is the big day! An Afternoon of American Song has been a year in the making, and we can’t wait to share this fantastic program—performed by our exceptional Opera Colorado Young Artists—with you. But if you don’t have your tickets yet, hurry; seating is very limited for this intimate performance, and we’re nearly sold out.
This concert features gems from 21st century American composers and spans musical theater, art song, opera, and cabaret. The combination of contemporary works sung by up-and-coming artists makes it an event particularly near and dear to the heart of Cherity Koepke, Opera Colorado’s Director of Education & Community Programs and Director of the Young Artist Program.
“It’s wonderful to hear these Young Artists at the beginnings of their careers. It’s so important to support them; they’re the future,” says Koepke. “The arts are vital; they teach us who were are in the world. They’re a lens for all of the emotions and the shifts and changes that life throws at us. They offer us a chance to look outside ourselves. And it’s the Young Artists that are ready to take on that challenge, to bring that to audiences. That is what people are supporting when they attend events like these.”
Today, we wrap up our preview of An Afternoon of American Song by checking in with our final Young Artist: bass-baritone Andrew Hiers. Learn more about his journey to and with Opera Colorado below, and then make sure to buy your tickets to hear him and the rest of the Young Artists this Sunday!
Can you walk me through your journey to becoming a singer, and then to becoming an Opera Colorado Young Artist?
I’m the youngest of three. Both my brother and sister did choir, so of course I followed in their footsteps. I took to it like a fish to water and I was definitely the most talented of the three of us, so I did choir all through college. I loved musical theater and I did this competition in my senior year of high school. But the judges said, “You don’t really have a musical theater voice. You should study opera.” I fell in love with opera when I got to Florida State University for undergrad. I was fortunate to move to New York City after that and work with some opera companies while I was there, and I waited tables for a little bit while supporting my dream. Then I got recruited to study for a master’s degree at SUNY Binghamton, and my work there set me on the trajectory I’m currently on.
And I found my way to Opera Colorado through lots of auditions! I actually did 30 applications that year, with 17 auditions, and I got 3 yesses out of those, one being Opera Colorado. Anything worth having, you’ve got to work for it, you know?
Was there a specific moment that made you realize you needed to pursue performance as a career?
The first truly awesome moment was my eighth grade year, where all the guys did this performance of “Grease Lightning.” I got to sing the lead part and the place went crazy! They just loved it, and it was just this euphoric thing. I got high off of it. When you know you have the audience in the place where they’re just eating up everything you’re doing, it is really like a drug. That was when the seed was planted and I’ve been chasing that high ever since.
Did you ever want to be anything besides a musician?
Well, when I saw The Mighty Ducks, I wanted to be hockey player. When I saw Twister, I wanted to be a storm chaser. (I’m a big movie buff.) I was really good at math when I was younger, so I thought I might be a mathematician. But ever since high school, I knew I wanted to do music. I thought I might teach music, since I have a passion for choir. I think I want to come back to that at some point when I’m done performing.
You’ve been in Denver for about six months now. What has been some of the highlights of your time as an Opera Colorado Young Artist?
I’m really excited for the tour we have coming up. We’ll perform Cinderella, which has been really fun because I got to do Don Magnifico this past summer, elsewhere. So taking that whole role and chopping it down to an hour-long, condensed show has been great because we now get to take it to schools. We’re the first exposure a lot of kids are going to have to opera, and I’m really passionate about that. (My own first experience with opera was watching The Shawshank Redemption, in which they play “Canzonetta sull’aria” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.) Our generation of opera singers is charged with making it relevant to younger people, so I really love doing that. I’m excited to get to do that with the Young Artist Program’s next production, too, of Elixir of Love.
What’s the biggest misconception about your voice type?
I don’t really fit into a box. A lot of people want to say, “You’re this or you’re that.” As a bass-baritone, I’m fortunate that there’s a ton of great repertoire out there. But I also have the flexibility to do some of the things that a baritone would do and some of the things that a bass would do. In the States and abroad, lots of people want to put you into a box, and that’s what I struggle against. I’m a performer. I can sing high notes and I can sing low notes. Just let me do it!
We’re all so excited for An Afternoon of American Song. Are there pieces of music you’re particularly looking forward to performing?
I was assigned a bunch of music that’s actually usually performed by women, and I love that challenge. It’s 2018, so why do we still have all these gender norms in the repertoire that’s done? I’m doing “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music and “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line.
I love getting to play different characters. Being tasked with playing a Nazi in Steal a Pencil for Me was a big challenge. It wasn’t at all peaches and cream or anything like that. I scared people. The director came up to me during the last performance and said, “Can you tone it down with the screaming? You’re scaring me.” I also would really love to play a woman. I know who I am: I’m this tall white guy. But when I go on stage, I can be whatever. I love those challenges.
What would you say to someone even younger than you, who just decided they want to be an opera singer?
If you can picture yourself doing anything else in life, I’d say get a second degree. It’s a good idea because I had to wait tables in New York City for three years. It’s not that I was giving up or anything like that, I just wish I had other skills that could have supported me besides being on my feet for 12 hours a day. Waiting tables was great because it gave me the skills to talk to anybody about anything and it really teaches you humility. I was waiting tables across the street from the Metropolitan Opera. There were days where that was great motivation, but some days it was terrible.
But at the same time, I understand people putting all their eggs in one basket because if you’re going to go for it, you’ve got to go for it. You have to give it your all, or it’s going to chew you up and spit you out. It is not for the faint of heart.