Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Law.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I have been performing since I was 8 years old. My mom had an old cassette tape of the musical “Annie”, and I would listen to it over and over again, and insisted on performing all of the songs for my family. She took me to watch a rehearsal of a local youth theater group who was presenting “Annie” in a few weeks, and I was hooked. I thought to myself, “This is where I need to be.” I performed in, wrote, directed, and produced plays all through elementary school, as well as acted in the school productions. I was extremely serious about it. School felt like merely a means to access artistic endeavors, and the performances and rehearsals consumed my thoughts.
In high school, my mom bought me some voice lessons as a gift, and I fell completely and totally in love with singing. I knew I had a classical voice, but I didn’t know what to do with it. Vocally, musical theater was never a good fit for me, but opera didn’t totally move me yet. I ended up joining the choir at my high school, which had an amazing choral program. When it came time to apply to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, so my voice teacher at the time suggested I audition for Palomar Colleges excellent Applied Music Program, under the direction of Dr. David Chase.
I participated in that program for two years, and performed a mix of art song, opera scenes and arias, and musical theater. Dr. Chase told me I had a really promising soprano voice, and that he believed I could have a career in opera and classical music. I was deeply flattered, but not sure I was interested. It wasn’t until I transferred to Point Loma Nazarene University to study with Dr. John Craig Johnson that I really fell in love with opera. It hit me one day like a lightning bolt, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I had a wonderful experience studying with Dr. Johnson and Ines Irawati, who was the fantastic coach there at the time.
Both of them really give their students the foundation and tools needed to succeed in opera. They’re also absolute joys to work with! I am also very indebted to Dr. Nicolas Reveles of San Diego Opera, who was (and is) irreplaceable in his guidance and encouragement. I am now an Apprentice Artist in San Diego Opera’s young artist program, where I coach, do role study, and perform in a variety of opera scenes, concerts, and master classes. I am extremely thankful and proud to be able to say that I am a San Diego born, raised, and educated singer.
Please tell us about your art.
I am an opera singer, which means I am a singer, actor, and classical musician all rolled in to one. It is my job to bring the musical notes, rhythms, and words set down on paper by the composer and librettist to life for the audience in the theater, and it is truly the greatest challenge and joy of my life. As opera singers, our instruments are our bodies, so we have to be as healthy and in touch with our bodies as possible. It is imperative that we understand how our instrument works. I like to know my limitations, but also to always work on pushing the limits.
Greer Grimsley one told me that as a singer, especially a young singer, you have to push the limits to know how far you’re able to go, and I loved that. In addition to working on my vocal technique and learning the music itself, I’ve spent (and continue to spend) countless hours studying diction in German, Italian, French, English, Russian, Czech, and Spanish. Lately, I’ve been asked to sing a lot of Italian and German, so I doubled down on my study in those particular languages. I also spend time studying the characters in the pieces I sing, looking for their motivations, their thoughts, what makes them who they are, and what their evolution throughout the opera looks like.
For me, opera is all about human connection, in a very visceral way. When you sit in a room with someone who is singing with a mix of real feeling and a sense of abandon, it is incredibly moving. It makes you feel things you didn’t know you felt, or you didn’t know you could feel. It can be so cathartic. That is what I love so much about our art form, and that is what I want to give to people. The most rewarding thing for me is if people tell me after a performance that they were moved, they cried, they felt peace, or they felt joy.
Those moments are why I do what I do, and I really feel that it an immense privilege to perform some of the most beautiful music in existence for people, and to have a chance to connect with them and move them.
As an artist, how do you define success and what quality or characteristic do you feel is essential to success as an artist?
Success as an artist should look different for every single artist, in my opinion. For me, success is multi-tiered.
There’s my artistic goals, my professional goals, and what I think of as my “emotional” goals. My artistic goal is to make music and perform it in as truthful a way as possible. A coach once told me that the audience can always tell when you’re “faking it”, and that you need to feel very connected in some way to what you’re singing and performing on stage.
For example, I’ve sung the aria “Elsa’s Dream” from Wagner’s Lohengrin quite a lot this year. While I can’t relate to being accused of murdering my sibling, and then God sending me a literal Knight in Shining Armor to defend my honor, I CAN relate to feeling really beaten down in a certain situation and then suddenly experiencing what feels like a divine turn of events and being suddenly really infused with hope and happiness.
That’s what I try and channel when I perform that area, and I really hope it comes through as genuine. As a singer, it is so easy to get caught up in your head with the language or the music or the technique, so I am constantly working to be more and more free, open, and honest on stage, and I think continuing farther down that path in order to move and connect with the audience is my primary artistic goal.
My professional goals are more temporal, including being employed full-time as a singer, singing certain roles on my list of things I want to sing, and singing in certain opera houses. Some people sing exclusively or mostly as a hobby, and I still think that is wonderful. However, this is the career path I have chosen, so there are different expectations that come along with that for me. I used to worry that choosing music or performing as a career path would cheapen the art form for me, or kill my love for it.
However, I think it has done just the opposite. It has allowed it to become a priority in my life, and to dive in fully and completely. My emotional goal is pretty simple. I want to be happy. I do not want to ever let the demands of a career in opera overtake my thoughts and drive me crazy, haha! It can be tempting, but it is so important to make staying happy and balanced a priority. The culmination of these three goals equals total success for me, artistically.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
My schedule of upcoming performances is always up to date on my website. The best way to support any opera singer is by coming to their performances, or even just the performances of the local opera company. I think very often people expect not to like opera because they expect it to feel outdated, or too high-brow.
But so often they’re surprised when they actually come and hear it live! Opera is about our shared human experience and emotions, and every single person can relate to that.
Kingmond Young, Peter Konerko, Angel Mannion, Bri Robak, Gary Barnes