Madelaine Lane spends her days in an office tower overlooking Calder Plaza, defending people for Warner, Norcross & Judd.
But when the evening arrives, Lane leaves to pursue her true passion: Opera.
Despite growing up in the theater, Lane truly began her musical journey at The College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, where she had her first exposure to the enchanting arias of opera. In her senior year, she was forced to make the difficult decision between going to law school and pursuing a vocal performance degree. She chose the former.
But fast forward 13 years or so and the Grand Rapids native is now being invited to perform at Carnegie Hall for a New York Lyric Opera Theatre gala, singing Sull’aria from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and she’s performed solo around Europe, including at the Sankt Goar International Music Festival in Germany. In between these international adventures, she performs with Opera Grand Rapids and the West Michigan Opera Project (among others).
We talked with Lane about how she got here, why she loves opera, and what the future holds.
How did you ultimately end up coming back to music?
I didn’t sing again until maybe 2012. I randomly called up Nick Palmer, who was then the music director at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew. I asked if they were looking for cantors and he said, ‘Sure.’ (Then) I met Diane Penning-Koperski, who is a local singer here in town. I asked if she teaches voice lessons and she said, ‘Yeah, that’s my job.’ Then she sent me to her teacher, Nicholas Loren, who has a huge studio out in Holland. He’s a former international opera singer who retired to the West Michigan area and I see him maybe three times a week. I’ve been with him now for four years.
That moment when you had your first exposure to opera, what did that feel like?
I always tell people that I’m never as happy when I’m singing. It was true then and it’s true today. I always, no matter what is happening, can go into the voice studio and sing and all of my troubles melt away. … It’s just what brings me joy, and I had never really experienced that before college. It was falling into, ‘Oh my god, this is what I love.’ It was a sort of epiphany, that way.
Can you explain why you fell in love with opera in particular?
I’ve always been interested in live theater, even growing up doing shows at Civic Theatre and Circle Theatre, so I love that aspect of it. And you’re almost always singing in a foreign language. I absolutely love the challenge — that’s probably the lawyer geek in me — of not only having to master the acting part in a costume and the notes, but also doing it in a foreign language. So you’d have to master the intricacies of Italian or German. When I’m not listening to voice lessons or reading books, I’m usually on Duolingo. It’s always challenging me to learn something new, and I just find that really invigorating.
What performances stand out to you?
I sang Mimi in La boheme with the Kent Philharmonic Orchestra last May at St. Cecilia. Puccini is one of my favorite composers. Being able to sing that with an orchestra, it was just a really special moment for me, my first very big role like that in a full opera setting. That really stands, along with Carnegie and getting to fly over to Germany to sing for Jennifer Larmore.
Do you have any specific dreams or goals in mind for the future?
One of my favorite composers is (Giuseppe) Verdi. I would absolutely love to do some early operas like Attila, and in 2019 I’m singing Cio-Cio-san in Madame Butterfly with West Michigan Opera Project, a local company started by a friend of mine named Sarah Faasse. She created this company for local singers and they put on at least one opera and a couple of concerts a year and perform it throughout West Michigan, and it’s totally free, so people who want to be exposed to opera for the first time can come.
Why are you looking forward to this role?
I can remember the first time I walked into my teacher Nicholas’ studio, I asked him, ‘Do you think I could sing Madame Butterfly?’ And he said, very sweetly, ‘Well... we’ll see.’ So then, to years later walk into his studio and say I got hired to sing Cio-Cio-san and see the huge smile on his face was affirming of the work we’ve done together over the last four years.
What do you love about performing?
It’s being able to share that experience with others, whether they’re in the audience, other singers, the guy who’s doing the lights — it’s having that shared artistic and human experience with people. The more I can do that, whether it’s a full-time career or something I do after 5 p.m., that to me is fulfilling the dream. Being able to wake up everyday and know that I get to sing today and to learn and grow as a performer, that’s the best news for me.