One of Oklahoma's rising stars is making quite a name for herself in the highly competitive world of opera. Sarah Coburn has only been singing professionally for a decade, but in that time she has appeared at many of the world's most prestigious opera houses.
Coburn, 34, has performed at the Washington National Opera (where she was named 2009's artist of the year), the Vienna Staatsopera, Opera de Montreal, Los Angeles Opera, Welsh National Opera and Glimmerglass Opera.
Born in Virginia but raised in Muskogee, Coburn will be the featured soloist in a program titled “Great Moments of Opera” with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. The soprano will sing arias from “Semiramide,” “Carmen” and “Susannah” as well as the mad scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
Given the nature of the business, opera singers frequently become accustomed to the rigors of international travel. These days, however, Coburn has taken on an added responsibility: She generally takes her 2½-year old daughter with her. That can be trying on long flights to Vienna or Moscow.
“I don't know if anyone can fully master the challenges of traveling with a child, but my daughter has now flown with me 38 times,” Coburn said recently. “She's a traveling angel most of the time, but it can be difficult.
“Dealing with toys, diapers and baby food when you go through customs can also be a real pain. I'm about to try it again after my second child is born in May. I'm hanging on for dear life with the idea of having two kids on the road.”
As with many operatic notables, Coburn focuses on an area of the repertoire that best shows off her voice. She specializes in the bel canto (Italian for beautiful singing) repertoire, a florid style popular among such composers as Gioacchino Rossini (1792–1868), Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835) and Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848).
Many bel canto operas have running times somewhere between three and four hours. So it's not surprising that once singers have undertaken the arduous task of learning a new role, they generally seek multiple opportunities to perform it.
“By doing a role over and over again, you gain extra confidence, which allows you to take more risks,” Coburn said. “When the conductor knows you're comfortable, the music making is going to be spontaneous.
“There are so many factors that go into something being comfortable, and experience is one of the most important. When you trust your colleagues on stage, everyone can relax and focus on telling the story.”
Coburn, the daughter of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, has been praised for her appearances in “Rigoletto,” “The Barber of Seville,” “Lucia di Lammermoor.” And while it may be tempting to move into other areas of the repertoire, doing so too soon can have an adverse effect on one's voice.
“I love some of opera's more dramatic roles, but that's not a good enough reason to do them,” Coburn said. “A good test is if at the end of the night, could you go onstage and sing the whole role again?
“You should be emotionally and mentally exhausted, but vocally, you're just exercising. Just because you can sing a role doesn't mean you should. If you want a long-term career, you have to be careful and methodical about what you program and plan.”
“Sarah Coburn: Great Moments of Opera”
To watch a video of Sarah Coburn rehearsing a scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor,” scan the QR code or go to NewsOK.com.