Six Questions with Opera Singer Sarah Leuwerke ’99

She returns to Gustavus to perform and give a master class in opera.
Posted on November 12th, 2018 by

—Interview by Sara Cronk ’22

Sarah Leuwerke ’99 returns to Gustavus to perform opera pieces and work with students in a master class. The performance will be Saturday night, November 17, in Jussi Bjorling Recital Hall, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The concert is open to the public, and tickets are available at gustavustickets.com.

In preparation for her upcoming visit, we asked Leuwerke a few questions about her time here at Gustavus as well as her experiences in opera.

Gustavus: Why do you feel it’s important for people to see live performances like this one?
SL: Live performances offer an organic human energy that nothing else can! In our age of ever-increasing technology, the need for human connection grows. The unique live, unedited, unamplified presentation of a human voice cannot be recorded or duplicated to achieve the same effect. The art we have to give is temporal—it only fully exists in this moment. Live art music can offer solace, healing, understanding, introspection, connection. I can’t speak enough to the importance of this type of art!

Gustavus: Why did you decide to go into opera?
SL: Opera became the synthesis of all the things that inspired me. I’ve always wanted to sing. I have a cassette tape of tiny me singing Christmas carols with my Grandpa Campbell when I was three or four years old. I sang my first public solo in fifth grade, “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail. I’d sit and play a reduced version of “Mon Coeur S’ouvre A Ta Voix” over and over on the piano as a 10 year old.
Music is what pumps through my veins and how I understand and interpret my world. I got a gig singing with the Minnesota Opera chorus when I was finishing my Gustavus degree. I apprenticed at Santa Fe Opera and had gigs out west. I love the smell of backstage, I love the costumes, I love the way the body has to work in conjunction with the music and drama, and I also love the intellectual challenge that comes with operatic repertoire. I love the crazy people! That all being said, recital work is a dream for me: making my own creative path, programming repertoire that I really want to sing and that I feel has relevance to issues I value, and developing deep personal connections and great music with my incredible collaborators.

Gustavus: How did your time at Gustavus prepare you for what you’re doing today?
SL: It taught me how to think and forge my own way with music and to persevere. I completed my first two years at Simpson College. I intended on a music degree and chickened-out early in my freshman year! When I found my way back to music, I decided to transfer to Gustavus. Since most of my other requirements had been fulfilled, I really had a conservatory experience at Gustavus. I sang, I listened, I discussed, I wrote about, I thought about music—and I practiced and practiced and practiced! I met Dr. Snapp and she changed my life. She is a masterful mentor and teacher and an incredible human being. I learned most of what I know about great singing from her.

Gustavus: What’s it like to be coming back to Gustavus as a performer instead of a student?
SL: I discovered a lot about myself during my time at Gustavus. I was challenged and inspired. I was encouraged and nurtured. I also saw some more challenging parts of life. I was a junior the year the tornado hit. My husband (boyfriend at the time, a Gustie) and I drove to Saint Peter as soon as we heard about the incident. We saw the worst of the damage. For the remainder of the semester, classroom space was limited because buildings had been destroyed. I had voice lessons with Dr. Snapp in a FEMA trailer. I guess this all contributes to my experience at Gustavus having taught me to persevere. I am very much looking forward to coming back, giving back with my art, seeing how much the campus has changed, and, inevitably, experiencing how much I have changedover the last 18 years.

Gustavus: What are you hoping students will learn from this experience?
SL: Maybe some students will be inspired to seek out more female composers’ music to perform. Perhaps others will be inspired by the French cycle. I always walk away from “Sanglots”, the final text in the Poulenc, inspired to give something good to the world. I hope students come ready to jump into the scores with us; to listen, to think, to feel. That’s what a live performance should accomplish. I think the pressure is mostly on me to deliver music and text and passion, and to inspire!

 

 

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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