WMU News

Alumna and opera star gives rare U.S. performances

Sept. 12, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- In recent years, she's been starring in lavish productions on the most prominent stages in the opera world in such arts capitals as Vienna, Paris and Tokyo.

But next month, opera singer and Western Michigan University graduate Susan B. Anthony will be back in Kalamazoo to visit her alma mater, work with students and put on a string of rare public performances in the United States as part of the University's Centennial Scholar & Artist Series.

Anthony, an opera star described as possessing "a voice of pure honey shot with gold, as vast as a blaze of sunshine," will visit Kalamazoo Oct. 2-11, performing several times and even taking part in the University's Homecoming Parade. Her only other U.S. appearance this year was in May, when she performed the title role in the Washington (D.C.) Opera's production of Beethoven's "Fidelio."

Highlights of Anthony's visit will include a performance with the University Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of professor Bruce Uchimura, on Oct. 5 in Miller Auditorium and a recital on Oct. 7 with WMU professor of music and award-winning pianist Lori Sims in Dalton Center Recital Hall. Other public events include two sessions with WMU voice area music students sponsored by the University Entrepreneurial Program.

Anthony has established a significant presence in the opera world, becoming a favorite of leading theatres in Paris, Tokyo, Madrid, Dresden and in Vienna, where she also just performed "Fidelio." Other recent engagements include new productions of "Salome" and "Lohengrin" in Berlin, and appearing as Senta in "The Flying Dutchman" at the Bastille in Paris, and as Sieglinde in Wagner's "The Walkure" in Tokyo. All of this has been in the recent past and says nothing of her many performance credits before that.

The 1975 WMU music graduate and Kalamazoo native has seen her career explode in Europe, but the road to stardom began at her alma mater, where she studied with Marcella Faustman. She then studied at the University of Michigan, where she earned a master's degree in vocal performance, then was accepted at the International Opera School in Zurich, Switzerland. After many years of hard work, she was named "Singer of the Year" by Opernwelt magazine in both 1995 and 1997 and she has been lauded by critics the world over.

"I enjoy morphing myself into a variety of different characters," Anthony said in a profile in the Fall 2000 issue of the Western Michigan University Magazine. "You always bring a part of yourself to a character, but your characters also teach you. Even in roles I've done often, I always discover something new."

Anthony's rise to the top has not been meteoric, but instead has been a steady, upward climb. Early on, she changed opera houses every two years, upgrading each time as her skills progressively improved. Now a free agent, she's booked into roles years in advance and has the luxury of choosing the parts she wants and where she wants them.

"I wasn't ever 'discovered;' it just hasn't been that kind of career," Anthony says. "But I can't say I've enjoyed my experiences any less for taking a longer route. Often, performing several nights a week in different roles either makes you a very strong singer or sends you into another livelihood. This business requires perseverance, good nerves, a healthy dose of courage and, above all, an honest love of your craft."

Though truly a star today, Anthony does not demand to be treated like one, says Tom Kasdorf, who first met Anthony when he was choir director at First Presbyterian Church and Anthony joined the choir as a middle school student. They continued the teacher-student relationship when Anthony entered Kalamazoo Loy Norrix High School, where Kasdorf also directed the choir, and have continued a close relationship ever since.

"She's not a prima donna or a diva," he says. "She's very down to earth. She's a single woman and has learned to exercise her rights. She doesn't let people walk all over her. But she's not one of those obnoxious divas you hear about."

As her choir director, Kasdorf could see Anthony was blessed with a superior voice and watched as it continued to improve over time. She continued her studies with Faustman at WMU and then at U-M. She was working as a secretary at an engineering firm, but was continually pushed to keep singing. She decided to apply at the International Opera School and was accepted, laying the foundation for her opera career.

Kasdorf, who now works part time in the WMU School of Music, suggested that Anthony be tapped to be part of the University's centennial celebration. He says Anthony's residency provides a rare opportunity for U.S. audiences to hear someone who is among the top singers in the world.

"We're lucky that she still calls Kalamazoo 'home,' and that she enjoys being here," Kasdorf says. "We're very, very fortunate that she likes it here and has friends here."

Public events and appearances by Susan B. Anthony

Friday, Oct. 3
Master class, Dalton Center Recital Hall, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Free.

Sunday, Oct. 5
Concert with the University Symphony Orchestra, Miller Auditorium, 3 p.m. Free.

Monday, Oct. 6
Lecture and discussion with voice area music students, Room 1116 Dalton Center, 1 to 1:50 p.m. Free.

Tuesday, Oct. 7
Recital with pianist Lori Sims, Dalton Center Recital Hall, 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $10 general admission, $5 for students and seniors, call 269 387-2300.

Wednesday, Oct. 8
Lecture and discussion with voice area music students, Dalton Center Recital Hall, 1 to 1:50 p.m. Free.

Saturday, Oct. 11
Homecoming Parade, downtown Kalamazoo, 11 a.m. to noon. Free.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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