Viva Las Vegas!
by Emily Thrasher
Every opera singer hopes for a career in the musical world that reflects their many years of operatic training. But for the majority of singers the reality of making a living sometimes results in taking a path not previously considered such as in my case with musical theatre.
My first show after college was in the ensemble of a production of A…my name is Alice. It was near the end of the run that I began to wonder what my next role would be when an opportunity to sing for Opera Colorado came up which culminated in the Young Artist Program for the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Time between Alice and the YAP was dedicated solely to the study of opera while won competition money and part-time jobs fed my addiction. Predictably, the time came when nothing more could be gained by staying in Denver and I decided to move to Las Vegas. Within a year of my arrival to Sin City I was singing at an event when I was approached by a woman who was scouting for an agency that was hiring for a new major casino opening and they needed a soprano. Where else does it happen that they can‘t find an operatic soprano? Nowhere…Las Vegas truly was a cultural desert for the art of opera. Still, I managed to present out a memorable “Musetta” in a local production in La Bohème that also served as my informal presentation for the job for which I had recently been asked to audition. This was a case in which singing in an opera turned out to singing opera without the opera house.
It turned out that I was to be one of the original Streetmosphere entertainers at the all new Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. Rehearsals were a time for learning improvisational skills, acting classes, movement, practicing a never-ending Italian accent, and, of course, operatic repertoire. Along the way I gained a quick wit, learned some new duets, arias, and songs, and learned how to juggle. I had gone out on a limb for something uncertain but ended up singing my beloved arias every day for a living and acquiring new skills that would come in handy many times over. I left the Venetian after 13 months of singing outside of my opera world but better for the experience. My savings were enough to afford an audition trip on the East Coast that resulted in some small triumphs but no solid, feasible offers. In hindsight, I should have used my the money to move to the East Coast first, gotten settled, found work, and then did the auditions. But then this would have been a different story.
My next big move was my big break – from singing. I married, had my daughter, “retired” from show business and moved to Kentucky in 2001 but less than two years later headed back to Las Vegas where I took a job in restaurant as a singing waitress. I continued to “gig” on the side, learned proper microphone technique, added some standards and musical theatre to my repertoire, and learned a lot about wine and food. Musically, the opportunity arose in 2007 for a benefit performance of Jerry Springer, the Opera. My colleagues from way back at the Venetian asked me to sing the role of “Baby Jane” whose opening song includes the lyrics, “So dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians. I don’t want this moment to die.” Nice. I performed what I thought would probably be my last production considering my age, full-time profession, and location. Thankfully, I was wrong. It was in JSTO that my current conductor heard me for the first time and inquired of someone who knew me why I wasn’t in Phantom. The truth is that I auditioned for the show but was called back for the role of “Madame Giry” which I considered to be a mezzo role at best. Had I known more about the musical theatre world back then as I do now I would have been more keen on putting in more effort to excel at being chosen for the original cast. You live and you learn, you sing in crazy shows and get noticed.
Over the course of the next two years I had the opportunity to audition a few times for Phantom but it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I had my first performance as “Mme. Firmin” on January 25th and by the end of one year I will have completed almost 400 performances. Phantom is not an opera, of course, but there is a lot of opera singing in it and, therefore, quite a few opera singers as well. It’s all been a learning curve that I’ve happily followed and I’ve also earned my Actors’ Equity status.
I am grateful for all the unconventional musical challenges not typically experienced by opera singers that have brought me to this point in my vocal career. I have given serious consideration to pursuing more musical theatre should Phantom ever discontinue my contract or close and I’ve added jazz dance classes to my weekly routine to prepare for that possibity. You just never know when someone will need an opera singer who can dance, juggle, and apply improvisational skills in a role, right? In the meantime, I’m singing full-time again all because took chances going out of my opera comfort zone and trying out a new skill.
EMILY THRASHER is a graduate of CU Boulder. She studied voice in Italy and has performed in CO, NV & CA in credits including La Bohème (Musetta & Mimi), Carmen (Frasquita), Don Giovanni (Zerlina), Gianni Schicchi (Lauretta), Jerry Springer, the Opera (Baby Jane). Emily is currently performing as Madame Firmin in Phantom, the Las Vegas Spectacular.