My spine tingled and my eyes teared as a rich contralto voice filled the sanctuary of Holy Rosary Church in Caribou with “Glory to God” from Handel’s Messiah.
The occasion was the Dec. 12 holiday concert of the Caribou Choral Society. The soloist was Teresa Herold, 36, of Fort Fairfield, who recently returned to Aroostook County after seven years singing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Extending her voice into the soprano range for the solo, the deep quality of the contralto resonated without a microphone.
“I don’t use a mic. It’s 100 percent acoustic sound,” she said in an interview this week, adding that opera singers usually rely on acoustics instead of microphones. She said she learned a lot about projecting her voice by climbing into “the nosebleed section” of the Metropolitan Opera House and observing how singers made their voices “cut through the orchestra.”
“The Met seats 3,800 people. That’s more than the population of my hometown,” she said.
Yet singers’ voices fill the space, as hers fills other venues now in performances throughout Aroostook County.
Growing up in Fort Fairfield, she heard music every day of the week as her mother, Susan Herold, gave private violin and piano lessons in their home. Teresa Herold became a student on both instruments at age 5.
The 1998 Fort Fairfield High School graduate played in school bands and orchestras through the years and performed with the choirs, often as an accompanist. The diversity of her talent was recognized when she was named to three different All-State Music Festival ensembles: orchestra as a freshman playing viola, band as a junior playing flute and chorus as a senior.
It was not until she was a student at the University of Southern Maine that she took her first voice lesson. She intended to earn a music education degree in flute, but her professors encouraged her to pursue voice, as well. She studied with Ellen Chickering, associate professor of voice, and ended up with a double major in flute and voice music education.
“My first operatic role ever was Cherubino in Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ in 2001 at USM,” she said. “It was not only the first time I had been in an opera but was also the first opera I had ever seen live.”
After graduation in 2002, she performed in her first young artist program with PORTopera in Portland, as Veronica in Bizet’s “Dr. Miracle.”
Her USM professors also urged her to attend graduate school, and she won a graduate assistantship to Indiana University in Bloomington to study voice performance. Eager to perform, she went from Indiana to Seattle in 2005 where she entered the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program.
Intense training included lessons, coaching, fully staged operas and outreach to schools. Summer training programs took her to the operas of Central City, Colorado; St. Louis; and Chautauqua, New York. Other performances included the Bach Festival Chorale in Carmel, California, and the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina.
Her first attempt to apply for an audition at the Met, while in grad school, had been denied, but the dream eventually became a goal. In 2007, she decided to apply again.
This time she was granted an audition. The director of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Met had heard her sing in Seattle.
Teresa would audition for the program by singing two arias for James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera.
She sang Rossini’s “Cruda Sorte” and Handel’s “Hence, Iris, Hence Away” and thought she had blown the audition when she received an email afterward saying the young artist role was “not the best next step” for her.
Five months later she received an email from Lenore Rosenberg, artistic administrator for the Met, offering her a contract as a cover (understudy) for the main stage in the opera “War and Peace” by Prokofiev.
“An email from Lenore Rosenberg was like Christmas in July,” Teresa recalled. “You say a little prayer, then click on it, and your whole life changes for the better.”
As a cover, she memorized and rehearsed so she could step in for the singer playing two characters in the opera. “We even had our own wigs and costumes created for us, just in case,” she recalled.
The show ran 14 times. Teresa got her chance when the singer for whom she was covering was too ill to perform in the last show. Teresa made her debut at the Met in January 2008 playing Matryoshka and Mavra Kuzminichna in “War and Peace.”
“I have never even walked on this stage before in my life, and now I am going to perform on it,” she thought at the time. Now she reflects, “I sang all the right notes and acted well enough, and the rest is seven seasons worth of history.”
Because it happened overnight, her family was unable to see her first Met performance, but “they made it to all of my other performances and then some. What I did would not have been possible without my family. What I am doing now would not be possible without them, as well as many other friends and colleagues.”
After “War and Peace” she auditioned again and was offered her first official and favorite role: Rossweisse in Wagner’s “Die Walkure.” She performed and/or covered in 11 operas during her seven seasons at the Met.
In off-season, she would return to northern Maine, where she has a home near her family in Fort Fairfield.
“Maine was always refreshing, and I hated to leave,” she said. She grew weary of traveling to and from the crowded city and developed a new appreciation of “all that nature has to offer” in The County. She began thinking about opportunities in Aroostook and finally decided not to return to New York for an eighth season.
She moved back to Fort Fairfield and now teaches K-12 band and chorus for the Van Buren School District.
“Here I am challenged in new ways. It’s very rewarding.”
Outside school, she is involved in Aroostook River Voices, a choral and musical group directed by Larry Hall with members from all over The County and beyond; the University of Maine Presque Isle Community Band with Jon Simonoff; the Northern Maine Chamber Orchestra with Kevin Kinsey; and, of course, the Caribou Choral Society with Daniel Ladner.
“There is so much music to get involved with here, it is definitely not lacking. I am absorbed in northern Maine.”
Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.