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From Tusten to Vienna and back again

July 7, 2011

Sitting on the papier-mâché rock in the Tusten Theatre in December of 1990, all I could think was, “Did I have to go?” Uh-oh, I was pretty sure I did. So, I got off my rock, set aside my crutch and walked down the fire escape to use the bathroom one last time. Then I resumed my place on my rock with my flute as the music started for my first opera role, the crippled Amahl in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti for the Delaware Valley Opera (DVO). Two decades later, that very first lesson stays with me—always go one last time before you take the stage.

My name is Melanie Henley Heyn and I grew up in Abrahamsville, PA right across the river from Callicoon, NY. My sister, Emma, and I had our first stage experiences with the Peacemaker Players, a community theater group who performed new musicals at the Hortonville Presbyterian Church and Sullivan County Community College. Having seen the annual DVO production of Amahl at Christmas a few years running, I remember eagerly practicing his solo in the kitchen with the help of my mother and an LP. After auditioning for the mildly scary Gloria Krause, I got to rehearse with the great Carol Castel (former and now current director of the DVO). She would pound on the stage and say, “Feet here, don’t move, Melanie.” The DVO felt like home to me and I went on to sing a spirit in “The Magic Flute,” a courtesan in “The Merry Widow” and a lounge singer in “Trouble in Tahiti.” I still think of her when I am standing onstage in Vienna during someone else’s aria. My big moment came when I got a call from Carol to sing Rose in Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene.” To this day, it is my favorite of almost 30 productions I have sung.

After six years of training at the Prep. Division of the Manhattan School of Music in New York, I entered the University of Southern California, traveling 3,000 miles away from home. My experience at the DVO with Carol and conductor Scott Jackson Wiley got me into the opera my sophomore year. My new teacher, Shigemi Matsumoto, taught me not only singing but also how to look, smell and taste like an opera singer.