April 18, 2022

MSM alumna mezzo-soprano Erin Wagner (BM ’19) is featured in her solo debut at Carnegie Hall on April 19

MSM alumna Erin Wagner (BM ’19) is showcased at Weill Recital Hall on April 19 as the winner of the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation’s 2021 International Vocal Competition. She performs with pianist Shawn Chang in a program featuring music by Chang, Fauré, Edie Hill, Ravel, Errollyn Wallen, and Mahler.

Erin tells us about the concert, about her time at MSM, and what’s next for this rising opera talent, including moving to Houston to join the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

 

The editor-in-chief of Opera News magazine, F. Paul Driscoll, calls winning the Naumburg Foundation award in May 2021 a career-transforming victory for the young singer from El Paso, Texas.

“Erin Wagner gave a stunning performance of a program that was a typically rich expression of her versatility and musical curiosity,” he wrote in an article in Opera News last August.

Erin is thrilled to be showcased by the Foundation in her first solo performance at Carnegie Hall, one in a series of triumphs and accolades since she graduated from MSM in 2019. She participated in Renée Fleming’s 2021 SongStudio, won second prize in the 2021 Houston Saengerbund Competition, won the Naumburg Vocal Competition, was a Caramoor Schwab Vocal Rising Star, was featured in Opera News, and was named a Renée Fleming Artist at Aspen Music Festival. She was also a Young Concert Artists Competition Finalist, performed with the New York Festival of Song, and was a semifinalist in the Houston Grand Opera 34th Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition.

Tell us about the Carnegie Hall concert.

I’m so grateful and honored to have the opportunity to be making my Carnegie Hall debut. Getting to share music in any capacity is always so special, but especially during these times I am thankful to have the opportunity to perform and share my message with people. I am also so lucky to have my musical partner in crime, Shawn Chang (DMA’ 25) at the piano.

How have you been preparing for the concert? What are you looking forward to about it?

I’ve done a lot of work on integrating the text into my mental space so that I feel fully engaged with every word, I’ve also been so privileged to have ample time with Shawn [Chang] to really develop together in this repertoire as a duo. We’ve been very lucky to have opportunities to work on our music with people we love and trust wholeheartedly. I am most looking forward to sharing a piece that Shawn wrote specifically for this concert! The text is by my father (who is one of my biggest supporters), in a letter from my dad’s childhood we see and understand his experiences as a child living with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a very rare bone disorder.

Tell us about the program

Our program, But how things change, musically and textually explores the individual and collective experiences we have gone through in the past two years. Opening the program is Edie Hill’s The Giver of Stars: Six Poems of Amy Lowell. Lowell was one of the few queer American women writing in the early part of the 20th century and used her poetry to express her love for actress Ada Dwyer Russell. Hill perfectly captures a desire for intimate connection with the people we love, an emotion I’m sure we all felt in our time of isolation in 2020 and beyond.

Next is a group of euphoric Fauré songs that embody the joy we all felt as we became safely reunited with loved ones.

Ravel’s Deux Mélodies Hebraïques entail so much of the trajectory of the past two years. “Kaddisch” mourns those we’ve lost (our performance honors the lives lost to COVID-19, police brutality, war in Ukraine and Palestine, gun violence, and acts of racially motivated hatred). “The Eternal Enigma” questions the purpose of life and our suffering but also reverts to inaction; despite the many collective tragedies our society still reacts with inaction, selfishness, and the resignation to continue on without fighting for necessary reformation.

After intermission, Errollyn Wallen’s “Daedalus” tells the tale of Icarus from the perspective of his father, Daedalus, after he learns of his son’s death. Daedalus searches aimlessly for his son, while never losing hope. Hope is what carried me through times of isolation and brought me closer to the people I love, one of those people being my father.

My dad was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a very rare bone disorder, and throughout his childhood went through various experimental treatments. At the age of six he asked his mother to help him write a letter to his grandmother; she wrote while he spoke. After my grandmother passed away we found this letter in her bedside table, she never sent it. While we will never know her reason for not doing so, I imagine that she wanted to remember this period in her son’s life and remind herself of the many things he had to overcome. After finding this letter, I knew there was music behind these words, and I’m more than grateful that one of my best friends Shawn Chang agreed to compose “Marty’s Letter.”

Closing the program is Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, which takes us through some of the most important human emotions: blissful nostalgia, pure love, bleak emptiness and desperation, and finally acceptance of what is.

Tell us about being selected a winner by the Naumburg Foundation

I am so grateful to the Naumburg Foundation and the many incredible people behind this foundation for their support and belief in me and my artistry. Because of Naumburg, I have opportunities to share what is most important to me with others and have the ability to continue working towards embodying the artist and person I hope to be.

What’s next for you?

I will be joining the Merola Opera Program this summer to sing Second Lady in Die Zauberflote and Niña A in a scene from Golijov’s Ainadamar in A Celebration of American Song and in the Grand Finale Concert. In the fall I will be moving to Houston to join the Houston Grand Opera Studio to sing roles in Salome and Le nozze di Figaro, and to continue my studies as a young artist.

Tell us what you valued about your time at MSM? Why was it important to you?

My time at MSM was fundamental in making me who I am as an artist and person today. Some of my fondest memories are being in my voice lessons with Joan Patenaude-Yarnell who has become one of my biggest role models. She allowed me to step into who I am, vocally and artistically. I’m always grateful for her support and encouragement. I’m also forever thankful to have been able to work with Warren Jones who changed how I see music. Ken Merrill has inspired and taught me so much, his love for music is truly contagious. I also formed some of the most important friendships with classmates there; these people will always be in my life, and I don’t know where I’d be without them. Those on the faculty at MSM are all wonderful, and they all genuinely want to see the students grow and accomplish their dreams.

Any advice for singers who are applying to MSM?

Choose repertoire that speaks to you and represents who you are now. Don’t sing or play something because you feel that you’re “supposed to” or that it will “show you off.” Sing with honesty, integrity, and compassion.