Q & A: Mezzo-Soprano Ashley Dixon on Her Experiences at Ravinia & Upcoming Projects

By David Salazar

It all started in high school for mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon.

Since her father was in the military, Dixon was constantly on the move with her family. Eventually, they settled in Georgia, where Dixon “begged” her parents to put her in the choir so that she could spend some time with friends she had just made.

“Little did we know it would change my life,” Dixon told OperaWire in a recent interview. “My high school choir teacher, Franklin Green, also taught voice lessons and thought I should start taking them. Once I got over my shyness, the rest was history. I knew I had found the thing for me. He was the catalyst for my career combined with very supportive and wonderful parents.”

From there, Dixon would chart a career path that saw her study at Louisiana State University and then the University of Michigan before going on to become a Grand Finals Winner at The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2018. Since then, she’s gone on to perform with such companies as Amarillo Opera, Opera Louisiane, San Francisco Opera, and Detroit Opera, among others.

Along the way, she was a Steans Music Institute fellow at Ravinia, where she returns this summer to appear in performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor on July 14 and Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” on August 4 and 6 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

OperaWire spoke to Dixon about her career trajectory, her experience at Ravinia, and some of her upcoming projects.

OperaWire: What are some of the major highlights of your career so far?

Ashley Dixon: Some major highlights for me started in 2018 winning the Met competition with my husband Carlos Santelli. As every year passes, it still feels like yesterday! Coming back to my home company, San Francisco Opera, for a debut recital last year is something I’ll never forget. Recitals and art song are so dear to my heart, and is why Ravinia has had such a big impact on me. To be able to share something I curated for an audience of so many loved ones was so special. I also was so fortunate to have had my debut at Carnegie Hall this year with Boston Philharmonic in Beethoven’s Ninth.

OW: And flipping that question around, what are some of the greatest challenges you’ve overcome and what did you learn from those experiences?

AD: I think I speak for a lot of my colleagues when I say that coming out of the pandemic has been one of the toughest challenges. At the time, I was fresh out of the Adler program [in San Francisco] making my debut at Los Angeles Opera—and then the world shut down. Coming out of the program, I felt like I was so ready to take on the world and work as hard as I could. It almost felt like starting over. It wasn’t easy, and still isn’t easy, but having an amazing family and chosen family makes it worth it. It’s so easy to take this job for granted, so I’ve done a lot of work on myself just to live in the moment and soak up everything I can from each artistic experience and colleague I work with.

OW: Among your projects this summer is a return to Ravinia. What are some of your favorite memories and experiences with the festival? 

AD: I have so many! Ravinia is one of my favorite places on Earth. It’s my artistic happy place. When I was a Steans fellow, we had so many wonderful people to work with that changed the way I perform. We are also put up in houses around Ravinia’s campus, and the housemates I had my first summer are still my great friends—we have such a special bond. Last summer coming back for “La Clemenza di Tito” was incredible. Getting to watch masters of Mozart at work was so inspiring and I was so fortunate to be a part of it!

OW: This summer you will be performing in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. What excites you most about performing this iconic work? In what way does this work speak to or mean to you?

AD: I never get tired of Beethoven, and the Ninth Symphony is just so exciting. Listening to the chorus soar behind you is one of the best feelings. This performance will be very special because former US poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has reimagined Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” text as a more modern setting. Now more than ever we need unity and brotherhood and I think this setting of the text will really speak to people.

OW: You will be part of the upcoming world premiere of “Intelligence” in Houston. What excites you most about working on a brand-new work? 

AD: I’m so excited for this premiere! I will be covering the amazing Jaime Barton in the role of Elizabeth Van Lew. I started working on the workshop of this piece in 2021 with Opera San Jose and I knew Jake and Gene had something very special. Any chance to work with Jake, I take. He is not only an incredible composer but such a wonderful human, and creates such a safe and beautiful working environment. I love new works and being able to actually ask the composer or librettist questions about the character or about the vocal lines. You also get to have vocal freedom knowing it’s never been done before and nobody in the audience is expecting you to do it a certain way because they heard x-y-z singer or recording do it one way.

OW: Looking ahead, what are some dream roles or projects that you would be interested in?

AD: So many! I would absolutely love to sing Judith in “Bluebeard’s Castle.” I’m a thriller junkie, and the music is like nothing else. I’m also one of Berlioz’s biggest fans and would die to sing Marguerite in “Damnation of Faust” or Didon in “Les Troyens.” I’m also always thinking of recital programs and would love another opportunity to curate one!



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