May 06, 2020

Emily in Wonderland

A gifted Ryan Opera Center alumna is establishing herself in Europe

As a first-year member of the Ryan Opera Center, soprano Emily Pogorelc made a sparkling Lyric debut as Cinderella’s comical stepsister Noémie in Cendrillon in 2018. Then, last summerjust a few months after completing her time in the programthe Wisconsin native arrived in Munich to begin a great adventure: this season she’s an ensemble member with one of Europe’s most renowned companies, Germany’s Bayerische Staatsoper.

Emily is thrilled to follow in the footsteps of her longtime voice teacher (now the Ryan Opera Center’s Director of Vocal Studies), soprano Julia Faulkner, whose early performing career included several years in the Munich ensemble. Something else drew Emily to the Staatsoper as well: the chance to sing Gretel in Hansel and Gretel. “That role is so perfect for someone my age,” Emily declares. “To be offered it in this kind of housewho wouldn’t want that opportunity?”

The biggest challenge in Munich so far has been “day-to-day improvement of my German. It’s respectful, frankly, for me to speak German here.” There’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the Staatsoper, which presents a huge number of operas per season— normally more than 30, plus more than 20 ballets! “The constant turnover of repertoire, and the amount of music you learn in a very short amount of time, is incredible.”

In just a few months, Emily has been lucky to appear in three live-streamed performances. With no audience, due to the pandemic, “you have to imagine the audience in the camera and play to the camera. But there’s also less of the nerves you feel from having the audience there, and you can focus more on the task at hand.”

First of those three performances was Braunfels’s Die Vögel (The Birds), Emily’s house debut in a new production performed only once before the lockdown began two days later (“On that exhilarating day of doing the show there was so much energy, and so much happiness that we’d gotten to that point”). There was also Ballo Barock, a presentation including music of Purcell and Monteverdi (“It was amazing to create a show that literally hadn’t existed before — we created it based on the texts”). Then came Hansel and Gretel, “a dream come true! Tara Erraught [who sang Hansel], such an accomplished singer, was also such a generous, humble, sweet colleague. We were sharing that story and that production at holiday time, when we weren’t able to see our families and people weren’t able to go to the theater. It felt extraordinary to me that we were providing that for so many people around the globe.”

At the opera house right now, the toughest thing during the lockdown is that “we can’t do shows — we haven’t played for an audience since November 2 — but at least we’re still able to make music in a rehearsal room or coaching room. At the same time, it’s like getting close to something and not being able to touch it. You have to keep your spirits up in whatever way possible. It’s very helpful that my amazing colleagues are so passionate about everything they’re doing.”

Once performances resume this season, the rest of Emily’s Munich schedule will include performances as a Flowermaiden (Parsifal), Nannetta (Falstaff), Sister Genoveva (Suor Angelica), and Cherubino (The Marriage of Figaro). What lesson learned at Lyric has served her best throughout this first year in Europe? “That I need to be flexible in handling anything that comes my way. We also had improv classes at the Ryan Opera Center, and in improv the most important thing is to say ‘Yes, and…’ I feel like I’m constantly doing that, and making my life more colorful as a result.”

Photo credit: Kyle Flubacker, Caitlin Ruby


Puccini lost his heart to his heroine, and so will you, in music of miraculous beauty and aching, deeply poignant dramatic truth.