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"Operatic Unicorn," USM music alumna Megan Marino shares her story in Classical Singer Magazine

Megan Marino on Classical Singer Magazine cover

Mezzo-soprano Megan Marino’s journey has taken her far and wide, from her initial studies in jazz and musical theater, then classical music at the University of Southern Maine’s School of Music (graduating in 2005), to a Master’s of Music at University of Colorado, to an apprenticeship at Santa Fe Opera, to national and international stages, including the Metropolitan Opera.

Her story, “Adventures in Marino-Land,” shared here courtesy of Classical Singer Magazine, was the featured cover story for their December 2018 issue. The article explores Marino’s artistic journey through the field of opera, including how she manages her daily practice schedule, and it even features her favorite recipe for making bagels!

Fellow USM School of Music alumna Ashley Emerson ’06 shared her thoughts in the article:

Soprano Ashley Emerson has become a colleague and close friend of Marino’s since they met on the first day of classes at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. She calls Marino an “operatic unicorn,” adding that “her brain seems to run on this mystical, delightfully quirky, and very intelligent wavelength. She herself has joked about going to ‘Marino Land.’ That statement,” Emerson continues, “is further evidence that her imagination runs deep and goes to crazy places and that she’s able to keep the artists’ essential playground of creativity open for business.”

Marino will be appearing at the Metropolitan Opera the end of this month as "Laura" in Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and has upcoming roles with the Atlanta and Dallas Opera companies, among others.   


Adventures in Marino Land : Megan Marino

DECEMBER 3, 2018 JONATHAN BLALOCK, Classical Singer Magazine

With a chocolaty vocal timbre and a disarming gusto in each performance she delivers, mezzo-soprano Megan Marino is currently gracing the stages of the world’s most distinguished opera houses. She demonstrates a breathtaking acumen for vocal and dramatic versatility, equally at home tossing off rapid melismas as a spunky teenager or spinning out legato phrases as a middle-aged servant. Marino’s riveting acting and impressive singing may seem effortless, but her rise to stardom had a very bumpy start. A discouraging injury threatened to end Marino’s burgeoning career, but she eventually found that it was ground zero for a triumphant resurgence.

Standing at five feet tall, Marino’s petite physical stature doesn’t immediately seem imposing, but her vocal presence is tremendous. Her voice ably fills the capacious hall of the Metropolitan Opera, where her opportunities have increased each season since she joined the roster. She has never shied away from virtuosic vocalism, making a name for herself as one of the foremost interpreters of Rossini’s Rosina. The Dallas Morning News noticed Marino’s “aptly tangy mezzo and, again, impressive vocal fireworks” in Fort Worth Opera’s recent production of Il barbiere di Siviglia.

While Marino’s aptitude for Italian Bel Canto repertoire is clear, she is equally at home singing in English. She placed in the top three in the Lotte Lenya Competition and she earned praise for her role in Kurt Weill’s The Road of Promise with MasterVoices at Carnegie Hall. Also notable was her portrayal of Jessie in The Long Walk by Jeremy Howard Beck and Stephanie Fleischmann. She relished the opportunity to tell a contemporary story. “It was an interesting thing to be playing a character of the same age and nationality yet from an entirely different place and upbringing,” she notes. “Putting myself in someone else’s shoes who is such an emotional well was very inspiring.”

The size and color of Marino’s vocal instrument has evolved at a rapid pace over the past few years. Working closely with her voice teacher Braeden Harris, Marino has recently moved into more dramatic roles, including works by Tchaikovsky and Verdi. She also earned praise for her Wagnerian debut with Opéra national de Paris this year, and her résumé will include more roles by the same composer in future seasons.

“I think Megan would agree with me that there is no way that her voice hasn’t changed since beginning our work together,” Harris quips. “One conductor said, ‘it’s still Megan’s voice, but what happened?’ And of course, this is an unanswerable question because chemistry and alchemy are always at work between teacher and singer.”

Marino agrees that her intense training with coaches and teachers paved the way for her success, but her early path wasn’t without difficulty. Shortly after landing a pair of respectable Young Artist Programs, Marino suffered a serious injury in a rock climbing accident, breaking her elbow and ankle. The requisite surgery and long recovery forced her to cancel those YAP contracts and move back in with her parents. Marino vividly remembers that disheartening period. “I was dirt poor,” she says, “and my spirit was completely broken.”

Suddenly finding herself with ample free time, she began a renewed and vigorous vocal training, including one to three Skype lessons with Harris each week. She spent hours sitting at her parents’ piano in the basement, solidifying her keyboard and chart-reading skills—and “letting my ornamentation mind wander to crazy decorations.” Armed with a deeper artistic creativity, crutches, and a boot, Marino approached the next audition season with panache. “What started out as a horrible setback actually was a huge turning point for me,” she says. “It forced me to focus solely on my craft in a way I hadn’t before.”

Marino’s parents are not career musicians (one a scientist and the other a salesman), but they fiercely nurtured her creative spark. “My parents exposed my brother and me to a little bit of everything,” she recalls, “and were very supportive of our interests. They even got involved with us and, for example, took remedial piano lessons to help us with our studying. My mom wouldn’t just bring me to rehearsals for the community theater productions, she often joined the chorus and even played a couple small roles to support me.”

A compelling combination of talent, hard work, and dedication has been a winning formula for Marino. After two summers as an apprentice at Santa Fe Opera, she returned this year for her first Suzuki in a critically acclaimed production of Madame Butterfly. She calls her principal artist debut one of the most meaningful moments of her career. “I feel like I grew up a lot at Santa Fe . . . to be asked back so soon is such a milestone,” she says. “It’s been extremely rewarding to create a role like this with my unique skill set and has made me think very deeply about what opera means to me, what roles I’m best suited for, and where I see myself moving forward.”

“Butterfly” is one of many productions in which Marino has shared the spotlight with the world’s most celebrated artists. Sopranos Ana María Martínez and Kelly Kaduce both sang the role of Cio-Cio-San in the Santa Fe production. Marino appreciates both sopranos, calling them “real people and true in-the-moment artists.” Marino has also cultivated fruitful collaborations with many important stage directors, including Matthew Ozawa, Tomer Zvulun, and Michael Shell. “They seem to really understand and share in my child-like spirit stuck inside an adult perfectionist and roll with it,” she says.

Soprano Ashley Emerson has become a colleague and close friend of Marino’s since they met on the first day of classes at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. She calls Marino an “operatic unicorn,” adding that “her brain seems to run on this mystical, delightfully quirky, and very intelligent wavelength. She herself has joked about going to ‘Marino Land.’ That statement,” Emerson continues, “is further evidence that her imagination runs deep and goes to crazy places and that she’s able to keep the artists’ essential playground of creativity open for business.”

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton also delights in Marino’s whimsical personality. “She’s also been known to decorate my dressing room door with Lisa Frank stickers,” Barton remembers fondly. “If I had my choice of who I’d like to share a rehearsal room with, Marino would be at the top of my list.”

Perhaps Marino’s most significant collaboration occurred not in the opera house but in her personal life. A few years ago, she met baritone Michael Mayes during a concert engagement. Although Marino sang “I Hate Men” in this concert, her chemistry with this particular gentleman was undeniable. They exchanged wedding vows in the summer of 2015 and have grown closer as each of their operatic careers continue to blossom.

She calls her husband “my favorite mischief maker” and she’s thankful that he is “a partner who completely understands what I’m going through and how we have to live our lives in this profession.” Both spouses have busy schedules requiring them to leave Colorado, their current home, for months at a time. “Finding time to see each other is the obvious challenge,” Marino admits. “But we’ve got a ‘no longer than six weeks without visiting in person’ rule in place, which works out well. In order to have a relationship, you’ve got to make time.”

The Varying Days in Marino Land
“Scheduling is always in flux, and I try my best to be flexible and open to whatever the needs of production are while still honoring my needs.”—Megan Marino

Day of Performance:
Wake up 7:00–8:00 a.m. (“I try to sleep later/force myself to stay in bed and take it easy, but these past few years my body naturally wakes up then, so I roll with it.”)
Big protein-heavy breakfast
Warm up/light practice
Free time (“Maybe a walk and/or podcast.”)
Light supper (“I generally snack throughout the course of a show. I don’t like to be too full when performing.”)
Head to the theater early (“I prefer to arrive at least 30 minutes before my call when possible.”)

Day of Audition:
Wake up 7:00–8:00 a.m.
Warm up
Rehearsal 10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
Race to audition (“Generally, on audition days I’m inevitably called to rehearsal at the Met, so companies are kind enough to schedule me during my lunch break.”)
Change clothes at venue
Quick vocalization/check in
Race back to rehearsal and continue staging

On a Gig:
Wake up 7:00–8:00 a.m.
Rehearsal/coaching 10:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. (“If not called [to rehearsal], I will use that ‘structured time’ to work ahead on roles/practice/book and office work.”)
Rehearsal/coaching 2:00–5:00 p.m.
Break/dinner (“Get out of the building, explore the town, and live a life where I am.”)
Rehearsal/coaching 7:00–10:00 p.m.

Off the Road:
Wake up 7:00–8:00 a.m.
Free-for-all, which includes general practice/maintenance, role prep, lessons, coachings, yoga/exercise, cooking, gardening, visiting with friends and family, etc.

With two professional performers, jealousy could very easily enter a marriage. “Sometimes he’ll get a job in a place I couldn’t even get arrested in let alone hired—and even though my first instinct is to be super stoked for him, my next is sometimes to get stuck in my psyche and compare myself to him,” Marino admits candidly. “The great part is that we’re excellent communicators. We found out early on that the best policy is total honesty, even if it might hurt.”

Despite her natural beauty, talent, and charm, Marino is the last one to draw attention to herself. Always humble and supportive to her colleagues, she lets her extraordinary work speak for itself. Her commitment to her craft has not gone unnoticed, despite her humility. “Megan Marino is the perfect example of a young singer knowing precisely how to slowly build a career with care and attention,” notes Brad Woolbright, director of artistic administration at Santa Fe Opera.

Marino’s exemplary work as an apprentice in Santa Fe made her an easy choice for Suzuki in their 2018 production of Madame Butterfly, and Woolbright confirms that it was undoubtedly the right decision. “She has proven once again that her artistry is growing with each and every passing year,” he says. “Her work ethic and professionalism at such a young age is remarkable. Her seriousness as an artist and her eagerness to further develop her craft are levels of professionalism to which all young artists should aspire. Her gentle laughter, support of all her colleagues and, above all, her musicality will serve her long into the future as an artist with even greater potential in the operatic world.”

The peripatetic schedule of a working opera singer can be grueling, but Marino has found a way to stay grounded despite the stress, travel, and exhaustion. “I keep myself active physically and socially (to a point) outside of rehearsal,” she says. “I also get the 411 from a local company member of a good yoga studio and attend classes a few times a week and I also hit the driving range whenever possible. These are both pretty zen activities that also serve to connect my breath to my daily body usage.” She also hones her baking abilities between rehearsals and regularly shares her latest culinary creations on Instagram.

Aspiring opera singers can take courage in Marino’s example of how focus, discipline, and perseverance can pay off in a big way. “Long journey. Gotta love it,” she advises young vocalists. “You’ll be poor for a long time—it’s expensive to get started and also to keep going. Work never stops. There will always be surprises—good or bad, learn to roll with it.”

Marino shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. This season, her full schedule takes her back to the Metropolitan Opera and to other impressive companies, including Atlanta Opera, Dallas Opera, and Utah Opera. Her roles will include sassy sidekicks, pants roles, and more. As Marino flourishes and her star continues to rise, she proves that Marino Land is indeed a magical place to be.

From Opera to Oven

When not rehearsing, Megan Marino has another talent for baking and cooking. CS asked her to share one of her favorite recipes with readers. Below is a recipe for sourdough bagels that she found and then developed from the food blog An Oregon Cottage (Sourdough Bagels).
2 cups sourdough starter
1¼ cups water (Adjust the amount of water for thickness of starter.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
5½–6 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
Optional glaze and toppings: milk or an egg plus water, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or ranch dressing seasoning.

Mix starter, water, oil, flour, and salt together. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes.
Knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes or in a mixer with a dough hook for about 4 minutes. The dough should be stiff.
Transfer the dough to a greased large bowl and let it rise for 4–5 hours, depending on altitude/environment.
Pour out the dough onto a lightly floured surface or tea towel, knead a couple of times, flatten, and cut into 18–24 equal pieces.
Shape the bagels by rolling the dough pieces into balls. Poke a thumb or forefinger through the center to make the hole.
Set the shaped bagels on a parchment-lined baking sheet far enough apart so they don’t stick together when they rise.
Cover the shaped bagels with a damp towel or plastic wrap for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fill a large 12-inch skillet ½ to ¾ full with water and add the tablespoon of soda. Bring it to a boil.
Drop as many bagels as will fit, one at a time, into the boiling water.
Boil each bagel for 1 minute, and turn halfway through. Use a slotted spoon for retrieval from boiling soda water and return them to the baking sheet.
Once all are boiled, brush the bagels with a glaze, and commence topping sprinkling!
Bake for 14–15 minutes, alternating pans at the halfway point if you’re working with a smaller oven.
Cool on a rack.
*Note: “Baking time and heat may vary if you choose to make bigger bagels or from oven-to-oven and especially in places of higher/lower altitude. Best to keep a watchful eye on your creations.” —Megan Marino


Jonathan Blalock is represented by Encompass Arts. He has sung with the Opera Syracuse (La Cenerentola), Syracuse Symphony (Carmina Burana), Winston-Salem Symphony (Messiah), Arizona Musicfest (Pagliacci), Performance Santa Fe (The Mikado), Michigan Opera Theater (Fanciulla del West) and the Hong Kong Contemporary Song Festival.

Photo credits:

Cover image of Megan Marino courtesy of Cory Weaver
1) Classical Singer Magazine cover image courtesy of Bobby Gutierrez
2) "Olga" in Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Eugene Onegin, courtesy of Cory Weaver
3) "Rosina" in Florida Grand Opera’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, courtesy of Brittany Mazzurco Muscato
4) "Myrtale" in Metropolitan Opera's Thaïs, courtesy of Chris Lee  
5) "Suzuki" in Santa Fe Opera's Madame Butterfly, courtesy of Ken Howard 
6) "Despina" in Central City Opera's Così fan tutte, courtesy of Amanda Tipton
7) Weill’s The Road of Promise with the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall, courtesy of Erin Baiano


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