Michelle Trainor pulls and separates shiny strands of sheep’s wool from the bundle in her lap, her score in front of her in the dressing room. She pulls and separates the strands into tiny groups, then feeds them into a drop spindle to turn the wool into yarn. Her hands know what to do even if her mind is racing, and that is a comfort.
“It really focuses me and has me concentrate on one very simple task, so that my mind isn’t focusing on nerves and things like that,” said Trainor, a powerful soprano known for the richness of her sound and her interpretive quality. “It definitely calms my nerves.”
Trainor took the same approach to her career, doing what felt instinctively right until she was ready to take that next step. Success came quickly once that step was vocal competitions, winning three in her first two years, plus a grant. She covered Lady Macbeth her first year as an Emerging Artist for the Boston Lyric Opera and would return to the BLO stage a dozen more times over the next several years, usually in major roles.
She began her career in her late teens, playing 1970s tunes on her guitar on the streets of Providence, R.I. Eventually a friend who played the bongos joined in with her, picking spots near a coffee shop or anywhere else their lack of a busking license didn’t get them shooed away.
“If people threw money in, great, if not we just had fun doing it anyway,” she said.
A native of Rehoboth, Mass., she grew up listening to 1970s music, Pink Floyd or James Taylor, but discovered musicals in high school, art songs and arias through workshops.
“I always knew music could be so moving, like an outlet,” she said. “But then when I realized there could be acting and it’s just as powerful, this other kind of music, I was hooked.”
She worked in retail sales after college, delaying a decision about graduate school until the options could settle in her head. But the music always pulsed underneath, and after a few years she entered graduate school.
She had a boyfriend, Scott Sancinito, at Bridgewater State University but broke up after three years, much to the disappointment of her mother, Linda. She didn’t see him for another 10 years.
“This is crazy story,” Trainor said. “It should be an opera.”
Ten years later, just as she was on the verge of moving to Italy, her mother sent Sancinito a note on an index card. “It said, ‘Michelle is leaving the country. She’d love to have coffee with you, if you can give her a call.’
They talked a long time over coffee before Trainor went to Italy, where she had performances lined up. “We talked every day while I was in Italy,” she said. “I decided to come home. All of my stuff was in storage and I had no place to live.”
So she moved back in with her mother, and accepted Sancinito’s marriage proposal three months later.
She holds no ill will toward her mother for composing the note without telling her. “She just thought, ‘Oh, why not one more shot?'” Trainor said. A laugh that comes frequently came then.
She identifies as a soprano, whereas critics have called her a soprano, a “deep soprano” and a mezzo soprano.
“In the old days they probably would have called me a falcon soprano,” she said. “I definitely like to swim between mezzo and soprano. That’s where I’m happiest. I like singing both.”
She doesn’t worry about those classifications and is glad Athlone Artists executive director Miguel Rodriguez doesn’t either.
“That’s what stood out to me when I first met him,” she said, “because he embraces the uniqueness of a voice, I love that.”
She draws much sustenance from the lakes and trails and boardwalks of Ames Nowell State Park, which lies near her house.
“I don’t put headphones in, I just like the silence and listening to nature,” she said. ” I don’t have to talk to anybody, I just listen to the wind and the birds. That’s my happy place, for sure.”
At home she knits caps and hats and scarves or spins fabric on a loom. “My husband says I have enough scarves for everybody in Massachusetts,” she said.
When she can, she and Scott drive to New Hampshire to hike in the White Mountains. He still had the white notecard sent by Linda, who has since died.
“We chuckle when we bring it out,” Trainor said. “It’s like, ‘Well, she got her wish.'”
— By Andrew Meacham