Interview: Soprano Erin Morley’s Enriching Work-Life Balance
Pamina Debut, a Shot at a Grammy, and the Importance of a Well-Balanced LifeBy Chris Ruel
Soprano Erin Morley is one of opera’s most sought-after lyric coloraturas, having wowed audiences and critics alike in such quintessential coloratura roles as Zerbinetta in “Ariadne auf Naxos,” Sophie in “Der Rosenkavalier,” Cunegonde in “Candide,” and, Olympia in “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”
In early January, the Salt Lake City native finished her debut run as Pamina in “The Magic Flute” at the Met and is set to sing in two additional Met productions this season, “Siegfried,” and “Les Dialogues des Carmelites.” Throw three children into the mix—one of whom just turned two-months-old—and the busyness of Morley’s life comes into sharp focus.
It’s a fair question to ask how she balances her success as a singer with her personal life as a mother of three. The answer to that question, as Morley explained to OperaWire in a recent interview, is that her onstage success is closely linked to the offstage people she loves and holds most dear—her family.
A Role Debut of a Different Color For a Coloratura
Morley’s debut as Pamina in the Met Opera’s abridged version of “The Magic Flute,” was something of a new adventure.
“Pamina was a definite departure from my norm,” she stated. “When I decided to sing through the role, it felt really good—very comfortable. Pamina was a move towards developing the lyric qualities in my voice, but the choice shouldn’t be viewed as a desire to move into a different fach.”
Exploring a different aspect of her voice was one of two goals the soprano had in mind when accepting the role in the Met’s annual holiday run of the opera. Her other objective was no less important.
“The Magic Flute’s” singspiel format is more akin to a Broadway show than a typical opera. It was Mozart’s last operatic work while at the same time being one of the first operas written expressly for a popular audience, rather than for the court.
Morley was delighted to see the auditorium (and backstage) packed with children, many of whom were experiencing opera for the first time.
“This is how we grow the future of opera, by inviting kids into the opera house. I feel very passionate about that. The fact that we had so many children backstage was entirely fitting,” she explained. “Having my own kids backstage keeps me youthful, it gives me perspective especially when doing a production that’s tailored to engage children. What the Met does with ‘The Magic Flute’ is important work.”
While the work of putting on a good show and building audiences is serious business, Morley and her cast mates didn’t forget to enjoy themselves along the way. A few days before the show opened, Morley took control of the Met Opera’s Instagram account, bringing opera fans from around the world behind the scenes and into the fun.
“We all did the work, we took it seriously, and then we went out there and had a great time. Children are the most honest of audiences. If we can get them laughing, we know we’re doing a great job.”
And, like most fairy tales, there are morals to the story.
Pamina the Heroine?
Is Princess Pamina a classic damsel-in-distress, or is she a heroine? At first glance, Morley leaned towards the damsel-in-distress, but then she found heroic qualities and new dimensions to the character that centered around love, forgiveness, and companionship.
“Pamina is a heroine,” she exclaimed. “She’s important to the story in a female empowerment way. On the surface, she may seem one-dimensional, but as you start digging, you begin to understand that Pamina endures trials similar to Tamino’s. She’s not an appendage; her challenges are no less difficult.”
Morley pointed to Pamina’s character arc as an example. The princess moves from blind prejudice to acceptance and even love towards the people her mother (the Queen of the Night) taught to fear and loathe.
“Sarastro comes to Pamina and forgives her for even contemplating his murder. He’s willing to teach her there’s a better path, demonstrating to her that in his realm there is forgiveness for everybody and that they follow the light and don’t dwell in darkness.”
As for Morley, the light is pretty bright these days.
A Grammy Nomination for “Der Rosenkavalier”
The Met Opera production of “Der Rosenkavalier,” featuring Morley as Sophie, was nominated for the 2019 Grammy Award for “Best Opera Recording.” The album showcases a stellar cast including Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Renée Fleming as the Marschallin.
Safe to say, the soprano is thrilled with the honor.
“I’m so glad outstanding opera is being recognized as such. Having a Grammy statue would be a wonderful accomplishment, but the real reward was the production experience. It was a monumental show to be part of; the stars aligned to make everything come together.”
But the nomination doesn’t even sum up just how special that show was for Morley.
“I met Renée Fleming when I was 18-years-old. It was my first time attending the Metropolitan Opera, and Renée was singing Carlisle Floyd’s ‘Susannah.’ After the show, I met her backstage, and it was the best moment of my life!
“Not too many years later, I’m singing on the Met stage with Renée, performing ‘Der Rosenkavalier.’ It was trippy! There’s no other word for such a full-circle experience. She treated me like a colleague and gave me so much wonderful advice for my career.”
Opera and Life: The Benefit of Balance
Even if awards buzz is on the rise and reviews for her debut as Pamina were excellent, Morley has other stuff on her mind, positing that life is far more than accolades.
She believes joy and satisfaction should be found in equal measure on and offstage. And for Morley, offstage happiness and fulfillment come from time spent with her children. Family life doesn’t interfere with her career, it enhances it.
“It’s like déjà vu,” she explained. “I had a baby right before ‘Der Rosenkavalier,’ and it was an amazing show. Then, two months before performing the ‘The Magic Flute,’ I had my third child, and once more, everything happening on stage was emotionally heightened. When my heart is full to the brim with love for my kids, and I have rich professional experiences, I feel as though I have more to give to my audience.
“Before having children, I liked to immerse myself in work, but I now see that wasn’t healthy. There needed to be something else. For me, it’s my family, but that something can be anything. If you look around you will find great singers who nurture and take joy in pursuits outside of opera.”
So, what advice would Erin Morley give to a budding artist?
“We sometimes wrongly suggest to young singers that their entire life needs to be music or they’re not going to make it, but that’s a really destructive message. I think it’s just the opposite. Yes, you should take your art very seriously, and you must work hard to have all the necessary skills, but then you need to find and do things that complete you as a person.”