Precise vocal control is essential to Megan Marino’s career as an opera singer. But the same rules don’t apply to regular conversation. Certain memories of her college experience can make her speaking voice quaver with emotion in a way she’d never allow on stage.
Marino graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 2005. By 2013, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera. Her performance schedule grew with her reputation. This year’s bookings include shows in New York, Wyoming, South Carolina, Colorado, and New Mexico. Despite the demands on her time, she reserved a week in April to return to USM as an artist in residence at the Osher School of Music.
“It was just a really beautiful place to grow up musically,” Marino said. “It’s a smaller school. You get so much personal attention. Everybody’s education is really tailored to them because of that, which is wonderful.”
Marino wanted to give that same gift to current students who are hoping to follow in her footsteps as a professional singer. In a series of workshops, she met with them one-on-one. They took turns singing for her and hung on every word of advice.
Marino made a big impression on Molly Scott. Their session occurred just a few weeks before Scott was set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Musical Theatre. Scott dreams of travelling the country with a touring production of a Broadway show. Marino proved to her that it’s possible.
“I look up to her so much,” Scott said. “To know that I can come out of this school in Maine and go and do really great things as a performer is really cool.”
Scott was one of several students who were chosen to sing with Marino in two performances set for the end of the week. They only had a few days to learn the songs and develop their group dynamic before stepping in front of an audience. Ed Reichert was in charge of getting them ready.
Reichert began working at USM as a vocal coach when Marino was still a student. He pushed Marino to realize her potential with encouragement instead of pressure. Marino was glad to see a new generation of students thriving under his guidance. Reichert was just as impressed by the rapport that Marino built with her student collaborators in their short time together.
“Meg brought out the best in them,” Reichert said. “She made the work seem effortless and fun. . . Meg inspired them to rise to a higher level, all the while being more musical and committed to the material.”
As good as they sounded during rehearsals at Corthell Hall in Gorham, the real test came when they took the show on the road to the OceanView at Falmouth retirement community. Dozens of residents filled the events room to hear a familiar setlist of 20th century standards.
“Our community is very music savvy and they really love seeing young people coming up and talented professionals, so it will be a fun day for them,” said OceanView Activities Manager Marcia Emerson.
Eyes grew misty as Marino broke into “Never Never Land” from the musical version of “Peter Pan” that starred Mary Martin in the original cast. Perhaps no one was more moved than Hank and Sue Schmitt. The song brought back memories from decades earlier in their marriage when they’d seen Mary Martin perform on stage.
“It’s special, really special to hear all of that and hear Megan,” said Sue. “She’s got a wonderful voice.”
Sue is a discerning critic as musician herself, having studied piano at the Eastman School of Music. She and Hank regularly attend concerts at USM. This time, Hank became part of the show.
Hank’s moment came during Molly Scott’s rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from the musical “My Fair Lady.” Midway into her performance, she stopped singing to ask for a dance partner while Ed Reichert continued the melody on the piano. Hank shot out of his seat. At 81 years old, he was surefooted as ever and even surprised himself with some of his moves.
“I twirled her around quickly, so that she knew that stuff was gonna happen. I didn’t know what it was gonna be,” Hank said.
Sue playfully shot back, “He’s a ham. He wouldn’t know how to do a straight thing for his life.”
The same program that charmed the OceanView residents was just as well-received the following night. The venue for the second performance was a private home in front of a small gathering of music school patrons. Their backing is essential to the Great University Campaign’s success.
The campaign is a fundraising initiative in support of major campus construction projects, including a new Center for the Arts with a performance hall to showcase the music program. That project has a funding goal of $25 million. Marino helped launch the campaign last September and she continues to advocate on its behalf.
A third performance offered another chance to promote the campaign. University President Jacqueline Edmondson covered some of those background details in her introductory remarks. She was the natural choice for emcee since the show took place at her home on the Gorham campus. As Edmondson’s houseguest, Marino was already quite familiar with the setting.
“Megan filled our house with music, and I was so pleased she could stay with us,” Edmondson said. “She works incredibly hard. She is committed to making music and to our students. She is an open book and willingly shares her experiences and perspectives. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her better this week.”
They also got to know each other musically. Their piano duet was a highlight of the show. Sitting side-by-side on the bench, they shared the keyboard for a waltz by Brahms and giggled frequently when their hands bumped into each other.
Marino felt a special connection to the piano. It once belonged to her beloved mentor and vocal instructor, Ellen Chickering, who died of cancer three years ago. Marino blinked away tears while recalling Chickering’s role in shaping her as a singer and a person.
For the rest of the show, Marino stuck to singing while accompanied on piano by Laura Kargul, USM’s director of keyboard studies. It was the only show without student performers. Marino replaced their parts with operatic and classical selections by Rossini, Bizet, and more Brahms. Kargul was all the more impressed by Marino’s skill after working so closely with her.
“Megan’s presence reflects upon the reputation of the Osher School of Music and its long history of excellence,” Kargul said. “We are so proud to call her our own, and so grateful that she continues to care so deeply about the future of this school.”
Even after her residency ended, USM isn’t far from Marino’s thoughts. She is currently promoting a new album of children’s music. Its track listing includes several songs that she performed while back in Maine. The title track, “It’s You I Like,” is dedicated to Ellen Chickering.
Reflecting on her visit to campus, Marino said, “Being here has definitely been really heartwarming and helping me to remember a lot of my ‘why.’ Why I ended up out in the world doing what I’m doing.”