Beyond the Bio: Mezzo-Soprano Melanie Forgeron

Early on, there was a time when Melanie Forgeron dreaded the spotlight. Even as the mezzo-soprano colored a host of tragic roles with stirring depth, a part of her wasn’t convinced she belonged up there.

Now it’s her favorite place to be, which is saying something. She’s also fond of skiing in the Alps, swimming in Lake Zurich, zipping around narrow streets on her new motorcycle, and also practicing yoga and meditation.

Her schedule flies by almost as fast, documented in hundreds of Instagram posts with hashtags that reflect her goals and motivational strategies. You’ll see her on a mountaintop, light bouncing off the snow (#kissedbythesun), sampling banquet fare (#tastingnotwasting) or relaxing with friends (#deepconversations).

She’ll tell you that getting comfortable, on stage or off, took more than 10 years of therapy, much of it centered on her early childhood. She is the biological daughter of an American soldier and a German woman, adopted by a German couple as a young child.

“My mother said to me she knew she was adopting a child with a broken heart,” Forgeron says. Being the only child of African-American descent growing up added to a sense of alienation, of not belonging.

A children’s choir led to opera, a role in Hansel and Gretel. Her voice and acting ability developed further at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media in Germany, followed by an unbroken string of operatic roles since. Critics have praised her coloring and subtle shadings, her “mesmerizing sensuality” and ability to convey emotional depths through singing.

“Music is my healing language,” she says. “Because when I sing about pain and loss, or joy and ecstasy — what opera is full of, because this is what life is full of — people start crying in the audience because they are moved by the connection to their own emotions being reflected in the music.”

Abandonment didn’t bring her that power, but facing it did.

While she never met her biological father, at 18, Forgeron located her birth mother in Atlanta. But her visit did not go as she had hoped. The only history they shared had left both with painful memories. Rather than the reunion she had envisioned, Forgeron says, “It was the realization of life.”

Her own realizations followed: That her lack of a stable foundation was not her fault. That she could own the present moment.

“Claiming your own space,” her therapist called it.

“I got comfortable with me, my story, and accepted that it shaped me a lot,” she says. “And this is okay because it’s a really strong and heavy story. But how it turned out is quite good.”

Claiming space meant embracing her voice, which allowed it to blossom. “When you open your throat for singing, you open everything. There’s no protection. I had the time to realize that I don’t need protection because I’m already protected. Nothing is going to happen. And I also needed the time to stand on a stage and feel comfortable. Not looking for the exits. Just singing.”

Away from performing, Forgeron tries to get the most out of her surroundings in Zurich, Switzerland, where she is married and shares a home with four dogs. Days start early, as soon as her three black Labrador retrievers (Flame, Xeno and Daiki) and one yellow Lab (Elliot) decide to wake them up. Greeting each day is one of Forgeron’s favorite inspirational hashtags (#riseandshine).

“There was so much pain about everything,” she says. “‘Rise and shine’ means, ‘Never stop believing in your feelings and in your dreams.’ You can never stop until you reach the point you want to reach.”

Another one, #teaching, refers to the choir she coaches, open to all ages but mostly young adolescents. Between rehearsing songs for a Disney concert a few weeks away, Forgeron makes sure they spend time talking about life and its pressures.

“The message is that you are okay the way you are,” she says. “That is my mantra for the kids.”

By joining Athlone Artists, Forgeron feels she could be getting closer to one of her own dreams (#stepbystep), expanding her career into the United States.

“Five years ago I was not speaking English because I did not accept this part of me that is obviously American. And now I am speaking, and now I can feel comfortable coming to America.”

Whenever she crosses the pond, Forgeron already knows what she wants to do first — buy multiple pairs of sneakers.

After that, we’re talking about the number one hashtag on her Instagram page, #lovemyjob, and a commitment not to back off from her dreams.

“I want to sing at the Metropolitan Opera,” she says. “And I will, maybe.”