The lights fade, the curtain opens, and all eyes are on Suzanne Kantorski-Merrill as she gracefully takes center stage. At every performance, whether locally or in New York City, she said she “brings the story to life,” creating an intimate show through song and performance, behind the 100 piece orchestra wearing 30 pounds of period clothing. “You have to capture the entire audience for a two-hour performance,” said Kantorski-Merrill, the part-time Castleton faculty member and world class operatic soprano. Without using a microphone, Kantorski-Merrill can capture the entire audience through the emotional tone of her voice and expression in her movement.
Even if you can’t understand the words, you still get a sense of the story.
She started performing at 17, after only a year of lessons, making her debut at the Barre opera house. After that, she was fortunate enough to team up with a group of key musicians and land herself a scholarship at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music.
“When you go to a school like that, everyone is good,” she said. “It has to be no errors, no mistakes, everything is so specific. Your work has to be the best.”
Dealing with the pressure of competing against the best rising stars in singing, she tries to take a more relaxing approach.
“You can only do what you do, it’s enough,” said Merrill, “and every time you do it, it gets better.”
But what place does opera hold in today’s world? It’s certainly not a very prominent one among CSC students.
“Why would I want to watch that?” said Jordan Vickers, a senior.
But opera does not always fit the stereotype of fat ladies with horned Viking helmets singing nonsense in Italian.
“Modern opera is very organic, very intense,” said Kantorski-Merrill. “It’s the human connection.”
Most first-time opera goers are shocked at the intensity and vivid scenery of the performance, she said.
“Usually it’s ‘hey I just scored some Metallica tickets.’ You never hear ‘hey I’m going to try and score some opera tickets,'” she said.
Kantorski-Merrill teaches voice part-time for Castleton music students about once a week, offering valuable experience to young students who want to succeed.
“She’s tough,” says Candis Machia, a theatre and music student. “Very good, but tough.”
Kantorski-Merrill lives in Vermont, but commutes to New York City every week, where opera is a high class, cutthroat arena. She appears in scheduled performances, as well as in the competition scene, where prestige and the lure of big money brings big expectations.
She compares practicing her routine to the schedule of professional athletes.
“We have a team of coaches, a nutritionist,” she said. “The performance for us is like the game. You want to make sure you’re ready.”
By doing well in these competitions, Kantorski-Merrill was able to build her musical resume and gain recognition on the opera circuit. She has performed in Hndel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate, Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915, Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 with the Manhattan Piano Trio, Schubert’s Mass in G and Orff’s Carmina Burana.
She will be performing Peal Fischer, by French composer Bizet, at Middlebury College this spring.