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Voice of an Angel: UH Alumna Lands Lead Role in New York City Opera Debut

Kirsten Chambers (MM Vocal Performance ’03) shines in “Angels in America.”

Winged and ethereal, Moores School of Music alumna Kirsten Chambers (MM ’03 Vocal Performance) made her New York City Opera debut this summer as The Angel in Péter Eötvös' “Angels in America.” The production is closing out the New York City Opera’s 2016-17 season to rave reviews, wrapping up a strong comeback season for the company after a three-year hiatus.

“Angels in America,” adapted from Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is set during the height of the 1980s AIDS crisis and follows the dissolution of two couples’ relationships. The characters grapple with sexual identity, faith and prejudice as they try to understand one another and themselves. Meanwhile, The Angel visits the protagonist Prior Walter, an HIV positive man whose long-term partner leaves him after learning of his diagnosis, and declares him to be the Prophet, thus, sending him on an unexpected and sometimes terrifying journey. The adaptation distills the groundbreaking work – which originally spanned seven hours over two days – into a single, powerful evening.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this opera and the important message it delivers – especially during LGBTQ Pride Month,” Chambers says, pointing to the line The Angel delivers in her final blessing. “She closes with ‘you are fabulous creatures each and every one.’ It’s this message of understanding and love that I hope resonates with audiences.” 

Chambers electrifies the stage with her intense performance as The Angel — the New York Classical Review described her as “[sporting] a soprano of blinding power and searing brightness” — but she says being on stage didn’t always come naturally to her. Even after earning a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Illinois Wesleyan University, she was unsure about trying to establish a performance career while embarking upon graduate studies at the University of Houston. But as she worked through her master's degree program, she gained the tools and confidence necessary to tackle the stage. 

“My experience at the Moores School of Music was transformational,” she says, crediting her UH mentors, vocal coach Katherine Ciesinski and Moores Opera Center Director Buck Ross. “I was a perfectionist at first,” she recalls. “I remember Katherine telling me it was okay to make mistakes and take chances in rehearsal, which was a huge shift in my perspective. Buck welcomed this kind of fearlessness, too. He made it feel safe and fun to be ‘in the moment’ while performing.”

Guided by Ciesinski and Ross, Chambers pushed herself to dig deeper and take more creative risks – including venturing into contemporary music repertoire. “Singing new music made me find my own voice,” she explains. “It helped me discover who I really was as an artist and a person.”

That person was a performer. In addition to her role as The Angel in this month’s production, she recently made her Metropolitan Opera debut as the title role in “Salome” and her Carnegie Hall debut as Maria in “Friedenstag” with the American Symphony Orchestra. Later this year, she will perform Erwartung with The Orchestra Now and reprise her role in “Salome” with the Florida Grand Opera. “Angels in America” runs from June 10 – 16, 2017 in New York City.