After years of singing in church choirs, schooling and practice sessions, Maureen Brabec is on her way to earning a place on opera stages. “Music is my career,” she said, during an interview with the Chronicle when she returned to Homewood in December.
After years of singing in church choirs, schooling and practice sessions, Maureen Brabec is on her way to earning a place on opera stages.
“Music is my career,” she said, during an interview with the Chronicle when she returned to Homewood in December.
This spring in Boston, Brabec will sing the lead female role of the conniving Vitellia in Mozart’s opera seria “La Clemenza di Tito.”
Her performance in April will be her first starring role as a member of Boston University’s Opera Institute where she started in September 2019. Brabec will be singing with the company for the next two years, and also taking language and performance classes at the university.
In her role as Vitellia, Brabec will be the villainous woman who wants to marry Roman emperor Tito to seek revenge on behalf of her deposed father. Tito has been turned down in two marriage proposals but doesn’t consider marrying Vitellia. It’s Sesto who loves Vitellia, and he becomes part of her schemes to assassinate Tito so she can ascend to the throne.
Brabec said the role requires her to be downright mean, drawing her away from her own reserved personality.
Vitellia means “getting to do all sorts of kooky things, and I have two great arias. It’s going to be a super fun stage animal moment for me. She’s crazy, so I just had to forget the inhibitions I have and just go for it.”
Brabec, 29, had her first opera leading role in summer 2019 as part of the Opera Maine cast for Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Brabec admits that these roles are “things that five years ago I wouldn’t be able to do.” Her training during work at UCLA on a master’s degree in vocal performance has helped her get the confidence to go on stage in a variety of roles.
Brabec got her start as a member of the children’s choir at St. Joseph Church in Homewood. She sang with the Homewood Children’s Choir and at James Hart School. She got passed over for leading roles in musicals at St. Ignatius High School.
Her parents, Tom and Mary Ellen Brabec, sent her to summer training sessions at Merit School of Music in Chicago where a teacher introduced her to opera.
“It was language study, history and music and I was like, opera’s so amazing and powerful and cool. That was where I knew what I wanted to do. I love singing, so let’s make it happen,” she remembers.
As a teenager, Brabec believed she was an alto, but she’s really a soprano. When she was working on a bachelor’s degree in musical performance at Catholic University, her teacher, Arianna Zukerman, helped her develop her vocal range.
Her coursework also introduced her to the history of opera, various pieces of music and four years of foreign language study.
After earning her degree, she did a year of service at a women’s shelter in Denver where she said she “learned so much about people” and also realized “it didn’t really make me happy. I was sorting out how to be of service and do music, which is what I love.”
She moved back to Washington, D.C., and spent time working with Zukerman at the Potomac Vocal Institute to prepare for her next step at UCLA.
“When I was 24 or 25 I really didn’t have any business singing opera arias. I did a lot of work ahead of time (with Zukerman) to be at a place where I wasn’t singing opera arias with bad technical habits.”
Brabec appreciated being one of just 12 students in the master’s program her first year. The special attention helped her improve not only her stage presence, but her selection of vocal pieces.
“Now I have so much freedom because I have a sound technique under them,” she said.
She has been perfecting her language skills and can sing in Italian, German and French, although several of her leading roles at UCLA were sung in English. Brabec said many of the newer operatic works are being written in English, such as the 21st century piece “Dead Man Walking.”
Brabec will be in vocal competitions this spring and summer and hopes to be part of a summer performance program.