Caroline Worra is an opera singer and has performed at opera houses all across the country. She also taught me how to sing.
The first time I saw Worra was about five years ago. I was sitting in the soprano section at the Second Congregational Church in Greenwich. I noticed her at once -- smiling, friendly, sparkling. She is one of those people that makes you want to know her right away.
Worra, a soprano, had been chosen by Alexander Constantine, the church's music director, to fill a void in the church's Chancel Choir alto section. She sang beautifully -- and still does today.
Caroline is currently sharing her musical gifts with students at the Stanwich School, where she and her fiancÃ© Kreg Gotschall work together to direct school musicals and teach the youngsters voice and the nuances of singing. She has also taken on other students for private voice instruction -- me included.
Then there is her other life: opera star. So far, I have seen her perform in the New York City Opera's "Little Women," and the NYCO's "Mines of Sulphur."
And now she has landed herself a huge role. The Boston Lyric Opera has tapped her for Mozart's "Idomeneo Re Creta," in which she has a starring role as Eletta, Princess of Argos. I recently drove three hours to Boston to see her in a rehearsal of this opera and it was well worth it. She is beyond amazing.
Backstage at the Boston Lyric Opera, I found Caroline with her usual bright smile getting ready for the dress rehearsal. She was very excited to be Elettra, she told me. "I love to perform!" she said, "especially when I get to sing a role as fun as Elettra. The character is crazy, but needs to be sympathetic as well."
She said that her first aria in Act I is fast and full of over-the-top drama as Elettra is falling into fits of craziness. Then comes Act II, where her aria is gentle, almost like the Bel Canto music of Bellini, where she is a beautiful princess full of hope. Then, in Act III, all of her hope is gone and she goes over the edge -- where she gets to sing fast coloratura, as she sings her mad scene. "It is always a dream come true getting to do a character with this much variety of acting singing," Caroline says.
When I first arrived at Shubert Theatre, where the Boston Lyric Opera holds their performances, I spoke with the music director, David Angus. He said that during a previous rehearsal the other night, the orchestra gave Caroline a cheer after that third aria. That doesn't happen much with orchestras, he said. Angus went on to say that every now and then there is a WOW! in an opera. In "Idomeneo Re Crete," he said, Caroline is the WOW.
Angus has worked with Caroline at Glimmerglass Opera in the past and knows her well. "Caroline is an exceptional artist, both technically and musically," he told me. "In a business where sopranos infamously drag behind the beat, she is the first one I have ever met who says that she want to go faster than I do, and actually means it!
"She has the technique to do so, with total accuracy and a beautiful tone," he added. "She is a consummate professional, a great musician and actress, and I hope to work with her very often in the future. She also a lovely person, and a great colleague -- almost too good to be true!"
But just how did she end up in opera?
Caroline grew up playing the piano and singing trios in her parents' church in Wisconsin. While at Luther College, where she studied piano performance, she heard soprano Constanza Cuccaro. "It was singing like I had never heard before," she said. "There was a clarity and honesty to the sound and a technique that made everything look and sound simple." So she ended up majoring in both piano and voice, and continued on to get a Master of Music degree in vocal performance with Constanza Cuccaro at the University of Missouri. She then went on to get a Doctor of Music degree at Indiana University, the largest opera school in the world. Fortunately, Cuccaro had moved her teaching to IU, allowing Caroline to complete her degree in vocal performance with minors in choral conducting and music education.
Caroline started her professional career with Young Artist programs at San Francisco Opera Center, Pittsburg Opera Center, and Glimmerglass Opera and then moved on to New York City Opera, where she sang the leads in two national tours of "La Traviata" and "Die Fledermaus" as well as "The Rake's Progress" in Catania Sicily. Then came six seasons of New York City Opera, and their summer venue, Glimmerglass Opera. Then she was up and running.
The list of operas is endless. She is on the roster in over 20 different opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, and has sung over 40 different roles and 10 world premieres.
How does an opera singer balance teaching with all that performing? Caroline says that sometimes it is very difficult. But, she says, "I think I am a better teacher and performer because of the combination." She feels that she is well-suited to help her students because she know how it feels and how important it is to excel and enjoy music. This teacher of voice and piano at Stanwich School said that she had teachers who inspired her and she feels that she owes it to them to complete the circle by teaching and giving to her own students. "I completely love and appreciate both of my worlds," she added with a smile.
The two worlds can be also be easier to balance with people who are supportive of what a singer/ teacher is doing. Caroline's parents, Joel and Margaret Worra, offer incredible support, she says. Although they live in Minnesota, they attend as many of her performances as possible.
Her fiancÃ© Kreg Gotschall has also been wonderful. "I couldn't maintain this kind of schedule without him," she says. "Because he is an opera singer, he understands the demands and is able to support me with words of encouragement or just a helpful listening ear."
Fortunately for Greenwich -- especially the Stanwich School and Second Congregational Church -- Caroline will continue to balance her teaching and her performing. We truly have a rising star in our midst.
Remaining performances of Boston Lyric Opera's Idomeneo Re Di Creta include tonight, an April 25 matinee, April 28, 30, May 2 (matinee) and May 4. Matinees are at 3 p.m. and all other performance are at 7:30 p.m.
Worra will also be performing a recital at the Second Congregational Church in Greenwich on May 16.