‘It’s bizarre. But I love my life.’ – Laura Wilde
Laura Wilde knows she’s not quite normal. When she’s on the road with her opera colleagues, she’s the one who likes routine and stability in a career that’s anything but. When she returns home to South Dakota, she’s the one who has seen the world, hopscotching stages from Germany to Australia to London.
“Whenever I go home, family and friends are fascinated by what I do, but a lot of new people don’t even know what to ask other than ‘when are you going to settle down and have kids?’
“Yes, it’s bizarre. But I love my life.”
Laura was in fifth grade when her music instructor first noticed something different about her. While the music of young trumpet players can sound more like elephants in labor, Laura had natural tone. Early on, her parents sent her to music camps and private lessons, even driving her 45 miles south each Wednesday to take lessons from a respected college professor.
“I started putting in the work and seeing progress,” she said.
Directors started giving her solos, which she promptly tried to pass off to the second and third chair trumpets. “I hated solos—I would shake from nerves. I loved the feeling of what we could all create together.”
Finding her voice
At 17 years old, she attended the prestigious music camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts. She was there for trumpet but, just for fun, she took a voice class. The instructor told her she had some potential and should start voice lessons back home.
“I kind of laughed because I thought singers were loud and annoying. I didn’t take them seriously. Compared to all the instrumentalists, who were hunkered down, working hard.”
When Laura returned home for her senior year, her mom found a voice teacher at Augustana University who was willing to prep her for college auditions. It earned her a scholarship to St. Olaf College, just south of Minneapolis.
“I got in on both trumpet and voice, but it was under the understanding that I was better at trumpet. That was fine with me because I loved symphonies and pit orchestras, and I still didn’t love the idea of being a singer.”
Similar to how she found her love of singing, Laura discovered her talent for opera by accident. She was rehearsing a solo of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for a school production and, jokingly, belted out the line like an opera singer might. “I was honestly making fun of opera…and this voice came out. It was bigger than I expected.”
Laura Wilde – Stepping into the spotlight
Fast-forward four years and her college voice professor introduced her to Marlena Malas, a veteran voice professor at The Juilliard School. That relationship led her to meet other influencers in New York City, land her first paid job as an opera singer, and eventually led to her acceptance into the top young artist programs.
“This was all before my first year in grad school,” Laura said.
Once afraid of a trumpet solo, she now pursued voice solos.
“Even though I was late to the game with classical voice training, something about it felt natural and comfortable. I just kept falling in love with the art form of opera.”
At 23 years old, she landed her first big gig when Opera Theatre of St. Louis hired her to perform three summer seasons. Her work has since taken her to Santa Fe, Arizona, Nashville, Dallas, Chicago, London, Germany, and Scotland.
Industry leaders ‘took a chance on me’
She lists about a dozen people in her life who she credits with her early success in a tough career.
Among them, her parents, for “spoiling me with opportunity.” Her first instructors, who were willing to make an exception and take on a high school kid. Her college professors, who supported her switch from trumpet to voice and introduced her to industry heavy weights.
“There are people who do everything right, who are super talented, but never have a career. I tried to do everything in my power, but honestly, it’s people who took a chance on me and were willing to encourage others to take a chance on me that are the reason I am where I am.”
The hard truth: ‘it’s not a grateful career’
She loves her life, but she says it’s not for everyone. She’s the target of critical reviews. She worries about catching strep throat or laryngitis. The international travel makes it tough to plan financially, to get health insurance, to buy a home, to date.
When she’s not on the road, she’s studying the text and music for her next role, which sometimes requires learning a new language. Her most recent job in Stuttgart, Germany, had her speaking German in daily life, performing in Italian as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, and memorizing Czech for an upcoming role in Jenůfa.
“It’s not a grateful career,” she says. “People who go into it because they want applause will find that it’s going to leave them really lonely. But I don’t need this to be complete. I have people in my life who make me feel valuable.”
For now, the 33-year-old soprano is right where she wants to be.
“We have one life to live. Do what you love. And give yourself permission to stop when you no longer love it. That’s what I’ve done. Right now, I know this is the path I’m supposed to be on. I still love it. And if it changes, it changes, and I’ll move on.”
See operatic soprano Laura Wilde in a city near you:
- July and August 2019 – Santa Fe Opera, singing the role of Jenůfa in Jenůfa.
- September/October 2019 – Arizona Opera, singing the role of Mamah Cheney in Shining Brow, an opera about Frank Lloyd Wright
- October 13, 2019 –fundraising recital in Trollhatten, Sweden, for Channel to Brazil
- November 2019 – Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, singing the role of Gretel in Hansel and Gretel
- December and January 2019 – Staatsoper Stuttgart, singing the role of Agathe in Freischutz
- April 2020 – Lyric Opera of Chicago, singing multiple roles in Wagner’s Ring Cycle
Follow her work at laurawildesoprano.com.