What it's like to be a young opera singer

Jul 11, 2013

Giles Simmer stands between two other characters from the production 'The Red Mill' with the Comic Opera Guild in 2012.
Credit Comic Opera Guild

Giles Simmer has been singing opera professionally for almost a decade. Simmer describes opera as a great, but bizarre experience:

"It's so much fun, it's not something that you're going to get to experience in real life, just because some of it is so ridiculous...ridiculous and inappropriate is probably the right way to put it," she says. "You get to go up there and be somebody else."

With a Bachelor of Arts in vocal performance, she’s now pursuing a graduate degree at Western Michigan University. Simmer started singing at the age of 13, when she was given the opportunity to study privately.

She says she started out with a lot of art song—which is solo work with piano accompaniment--and choral work. But once she got to college, Simmer says she was exposed to countless operas. As of now, she is studying privately with Western Michigan University faculty member, Dr. Karen Kness.

"There are certain types of repertoire that you have to have completed before you graduate," Simmer says. "There are a certain number of opera arias, certain number of art song cycles, a certain number of languages that I have to have sung in, so I'm working on all that plus participating in stuff that the school offers and things that are offered in Grand Rapids.”

Simmer participates in Opera Grand Rapids, university competitions, and opera workshops. She'll sing in Mexico and Austria this summer, which she says will help start her career. After Simmer graduates in Spring 2014, there will be many auditions and a lot of competition for roles, but Simmer says she's ready for the challenge.

Liz Geese: Is it all worth it?

Giles Simmer: It is, especially when you're on the stage. It's so much fun, I'm up there giving to the audience something that I've worked hard on that I know I'm doing well and they're enjoying it.

When asked what her favorite opera is, Simmer says it's always the one she's currently working on.

I said that to my husband in the last one I did, Don Giovanni with Opera Grand Rapids. I was singing in the chorus and I said 'This is my favorite opera!' And he said 'You say that every time you’re in a new opera.' I would say that Don Giovanni is up there on the list that is the very first opera I saw live and then I got to perform in it as well, so that was really cool," says Simmer. "It probably really is the one that I'm currently working on and performing in, just because you get so connected to the people that you're performing with and the story of the opera, that you're immersed in it, so the most recent is Don Giovanni, we'll see what the next one is.