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Coach sings with Met

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Friday, February 1, 2013

When Notre Dame vocal instructor Deborah Mayer caught word of an audition opportunity with the New York Metropolitan Opera, she had one week’s notice to make her lifelong dream a reality.

Mayer, who teaches voice lessons at the University, will perform the role of Gerhilde in “Die Walkure”this spring. The opera is part of German composer Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” which Mayer said the Opera is performing in its entirety this spring to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth.  

“My manager told me they needed someone to fill a particular role that was being vacated, so I prepared the music with a week’s notice,” Mayer said. “It was one of those things where someone says ‘jump’ and all you can say is ‘okay, how high?’ It was nerve-wracking.”

Mayer, a soprano, had auditioned for the Met in the past, but said this honor is a unique and exciting moment in her career.

“Anytime that any singer has the honor to sing something of Richard Wagner’s, that’s quite exciting,” Mayer said. “What young girl doesn’t want to sing at the Metropolitan Opera? I feel like I’ve been waiting for the Met my whole life.”

Mayer said she spent 10 years training and performing in Europe before coming to South Bend to continue her career as a teacher. This rendition of the Ring Cycle is more modern than most, according to Mayer, and the logistical challenges of the stage and set will be unlike anything she has previously encountered.

 “The big issue with this production is the new set – it’s sort of like big teeter-totters, where the whole floor moves and hydraulics are involved and there are computerized productions and all,” Mayer said. “There will be a lot of climbing and movement, and the show really will be built around the set.”

Another major challenge will be endurance and stamina, since “Die Walkure” is a four-and-a-half hour opera. Mayer said her personal preparation includes hours of working out and training physically for the role, which includes choreography stylistically comparable to that of Cirque du Soleil.

“They’ve been clear with this interpretation of the ‘Ring Cycle’ and actually with opera in general that it’s all becoming much more visual,” Mayer said. “Everyone needs to be fit. They want everyone to look a certain way on stage.”

Mayer said the Wagner Ring Cycle can be thought of as a story with four chapters, in which “Die Walkure”is the second and most widely-recognized. Typically, each chapter is presented as its own evening performance, with a single Cycle performed over four days. The show will open in April, and the ‘Ring Cycle’ will be performed in its entirety three times over three weeks.

Mayer will be able to fly back and forth between New York and Indiana to continue teaching throughout the performance run. She said she makes a priority of sharing her stage experiences with her students to prepare them for future careers in performance.

“There are things you can only learn and teach to your students by being on your feet, on the stage,” Mayer said. “It’s interesting, because [the other Met performers] are people whose careers I’ve been watching for 10 or 15 years as a student myself, and it is a great honor to share the stage with them this spring.”