Growing up, Jennifer Gill thought opera was a bore. The image of the opera singer standing alone at the front of the stage, singing of struggle and sorrow in a foreign language didn’t have much appeal.
“I just wasn’t exposed to opera as kid,” Gill said in an interview this week. “I thought it was a little too stiff for me.”
Yet Gill did grow up to become an opera singer, and one with an impressive resume to boot. She has performed on multiple occasions with the Portland Opera, making her debut in 2006 as Second Secretary Mao in John Adams’ “Nixon in China,” and as a soloist in “Flight for Freedom,” the 10th anniversary concert in New York City commemorating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Gill, 36, performs in Casper on Saturday night. The performance represents something of a homecoming for the Wyoming native, who grew up in Laramie before moving to Portland in high school. Her grandfather, Richard Mills, and her mother, Pamela Mills, live in Casper while her father, George Gill, still lives in Laramie.
“I am a Wyoming girl,” she said, laughing. “It’s wonderful to come back to Wyoming.”
So how does a Wyoming girl with no interest in opera grow up to become an opera singer?
Gill began singing at 11. She joined choirs and acted in plays. She went on to the University of Montana, where she pursued a degree in music, before transferring to Portland State University. It was there that a professor recommended she make the move into opera.
She was not excited about the idea. There was her feeling that opera was stiff. There was also the unknown.
Opera singers learn Italian and must be able to sing in other languages such as French, German, Russian and Spanish. She ultimately decided to give it a try. As it turned out, her first impressions were wrong. Opera combined her love of music and theater.
“It is loaded with such rich passion, colorful drama and text and history. It is so much more rich and exciting than I ever knew,” Gill said. “Once I dabbled with it, I just fell in love with it. Musical theater is fun, but it doesn’t have the depth of opera.”
Gill went to Indiana University for her graduate studies, focusing on opera. She embraced the challenges of learning new languages, studying Italian for two years and the International Phonetic Alphabet. Understanding how words sound in other languages enables her to sound like she speaks French and German when she sings — even though she doesn’t.
Opera has evolved over the years. That image of the lone singer standing stationary at the front of the stage no longer applies, she said. There is more movement, more use of technology.
“You have to be an actor,” Gill said. “It has to be an exciting event to keep peoples’ attention these days.”
Gill is a mezzo-soprano, singing in a slightly lower register than a soprano, but higher than contralto. Her Casper performance will not be an opera per say. She is preforming with two friends, Anastasia Tilbury and Carolyn Coefield. They will sing a series of duets from famous operas, folk songs and a John Lennon song.
“There will be a little something for everyone,” she said.