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Melinda Whittington On 'Amplifying the Human Experience' Through Opera

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Photo courtesy of the artist.
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Melinda Whittington in "The Ghosts of Versailles" at Wolf Trap Opera.

Halloween is the one day a year where it's more than acceptable to heighten the drama of life through elaborate costumes and wigs... that is, unless you work in opera. In which case, your day-to-day career combines costumes and characterization with a love of history, languages, cultures and singing.

It's a career that UNC Chapel Hill graduate and Charlotte resident Melinda Whittington has grown through international tours and even a performance at the world famous Metropolitan Opera. And it's one that she wants to share with audiences in North Carolina.

"For a long time, I called myself a lot of different things: a singer, a voice teacher, a million things to make ends meet. But it’s only been in the last four or five years that I make the majority of my living performing opera, and it feels really good to say that’s my job: I’m an opera singer."
– Melinda Whittington, opera singer

Interview Highlights:

On starting in music:

I grew up so far away from classical music and opera. My dad was a minister, and my mom was the leader of the band in the choir. Music was always in the house. So, I grew up singing in church, playing my guitar, singing praise and worship songs and wishing I could write songs. I tried, but I was always really bad at it. I was always the person who wanted to get it right.

On the difficulties of starting out as a young opera singer:

The hard thing for young opera singers is the only way to get better at being an opera singer is to sing opera. If nobody is giving you the opportunity to get your feet on the stage with an orchestra in the pit and really sing one of these huge, demanding roles that the greats for hundreds of years have sung, it’s really hard to get better at it.

On performing at the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera in New York City:

It was a big deal for me because of the history and the legends that had stood (as I imagined very romantically in my head) on that very same spot. Even the greats who had stood on that spot and sang the aria that I was singing. The Met [Opera] represents the top of the top. They draw the best singers.

To get the chance to stand on that stage was pretty magical and I want to do it again.

On learning foreign languages to sing opera:

It’s weird because I can say things like, “Your destiny is united with mine” in another language, but I can’t say, “Where’s the bathroom?”

I learn a completely different way of speaking that is very dramatic, very operatic. So I know some weird words in Czech, Russian, German, Italian, French and Spanish that the average person would never think, “Oh, I need to know that word before I go to that country.

On encouraging accessibility towards the fine arts:

You’re creating an opportunity for someone to find a window into a world that they otherwise would not have had. So, I think we need to make adjustments to our modern world. I think the modern world would greatly benefit from coming to more traditional operatic and symphonic concerts.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Melinda Whittington - "Chanson Triste"
Melinda Whittington - "Ch'il Bel Sogno di Doretta"
Melinda Whittington - ""The Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Dvorak
Melinda Whittington - "Summertime" (Performed at WFAE Studios)

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).