In May 2006, when we last wrote about Ashley Emerson, she had just successfully auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Program, a residency for talented opera singers fresh out of college.
The Bangor native and 2006 graduate of the University of Southern Maine so impressed her judges that they skipped the formalities and had her audition directly for James Levine, musical director of the Met. A day later, she was on board, learning acting, language, movement and singing, of course, from what is arguably the finest opera company in the world.
The 24-year-old soprano will make her debut with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, at Peakes Auditorium at Bangor High School, singing selections from “Zaide,” a little-known, unfinished opera by Mozart. The concert also features soloists Michi Wianko and Jennifer Stumm (violin and viola, respectively), in an all-Mozart lineup, including the Symphony no. 1 in E-flat major, the Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major, and Serenade no. 13 in G major, better known as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
For Emerson, singing with her hometown orchestra, on the stage of her old high school, is a thrill — but when she made her debut last year with the Met that was a thrill of another level entirely.
“Oh my God, it’s hard to really describe what that feeling is like,” she said, excitement rising in her voice. “Being on that stage, with some of the people who inspire me the most, is both surreal and incredible. The energy in that opera house is amazing. That’s such a landmark for any singer.”
Emerson has since worked on building the foundation for a successful career in opera. She sang with PORTopera in Portland, with the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and was the 2006 winner of the Palm Beach Opera Competition’s Junior Division. In the 2008-2009 season at the Met, she will appear as The Singer in a production of “La Rondine.”
“I’m so lucky to be able to work with some of the masters,” she said, of her time with the Met. “I’ve learned so much about how to free myself up on stage, and to focus my energies.”
The two arias from “Zaide” that she will perform on Sunday aren’t known to many, outside of major opera and Mozart fans. “Zaide” is about the title character, who falls in love with the slave Gomatz, who is held by the cruel Sultan Soliman. Emerson sings a lot of Mozart — while she was in Switzerland, she sang “Despina” in “Cosi fan tutti” — because his female soprano leads are so suited to her powerful voice, which Lindemann Program director Lenore Rosenberg said was “very commanding.”
“They are really different pieces,” she said, of the pieces from “Zaide.” “The first one is when she is watching Gomatz sleep, and she falls in love with him. It’s basically a lullaby. In the second, she’s lashing out at the sultan, saying ‘If I can’t be with him, then kill us both.’ It’s got very big emotions.”
Emerson is only in Maine for a few days, before she must rush back to New York City to get back to work at the Met. She loves her life in the city, but she takes the opportunity to breathe and relax a little when she comes home.
“I miss having more space,” she said. “Everything is rushed in New York. You can breathe in Maine.”
The Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s “Mozart in Maine” concert is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, at Peakes Auditorium at Bangor High School. For tickets and more information, call 942-5555 or visit www.bangorsymphony.org.