Melding her modeling and performing careers, Emma sings as a soloist in Beethoven’s 9th this weekend with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra wearing a gown chosen for her by Chicago-based Fashion designer and community advocate Borris Powell.
“I’m a community-oriented person. My philosophy as an artist is that there is nothing more special than being part of a group of people who have the shared goal of telling the same story. I love being a part of that whole.” – Emma Rose Sorenson
Athlone Artists is delighted to welcome to its roster mezzo soprano Emma Rose Sorenson, an artist praised by the Chicago Tribune for her “striking voice” and the Boston Classical Review for “ringing high notes”. The “tall, lithesome beauty with a vivid mezzo-soprano voice” (WTTW Chicago Tonight) divides her time between the operatic stage and a thriving modeling career, while fostering her love of ensemble singing as a regular chorister at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Earlier this month, Emma made her solo debut with the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Passenger 3 in the acclaimed world premiere production of Roumain, Shaw and Adams’ operatic trio, Proximity. This season will also see her return to Boston Lyric Opera to play the role of Eliza in Rhiannon Giddens & Michael Abels’ Omar. Sorenson will spend the summer of 2023 as an Apprentice Artist with Santa Fe Opera where she will cover Susan Graham and make her company debut as Geneviève in a performance of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.
“This is a dream come true,” says Emma about understudying one of her “musical heroes” while at the same time getting to make her debut at Santa Fe. Emma long dreamed of a life in music, but admits, “singing was elusive to me because I had once suffered from severe stage fright. I’ve always had a lot of passion and enthusiasm for creativity, I just wasn’t comfortable using my voice.” Emma participated in musical activities, but stayed out of the spotlight, choosing instead to perform in ensemble numbers and acting as dance captain for the show choir.
Emma ended up at Webster University, a small liberal arts school in St. Louis, where she was one of only three students majoring in vocal performance in her graduating class. “They really allowed me to blossom and grow,” she says. “I’d be so nervous my voice would shake, but they saw something in me and they cultivated it.” She jumped at the chance to attend a semester abroad in Vienna. It was there that she discovered her true passion for opera.
“I think I saw thirty operas in three months,” says Emma, who remembers fawning over the voices of artists like Elīna Garanča, Renee Fleming, and Thomas Hampson. “I stood through an entire performance of Don Carlo. I was riveted. And I started to think, ‘maybe I can do this!’”
Through opera, Emma found “this special, safe feeling.” It was getting easier for her to perform in public. “It was just beautiful,” she says. “And I wanted to be a part of it.”
When Emma returned to Webster, she experienced another life-changing moment, when director (and fellow Athlone Artist) Nathan Troup accepted an invitation to stage the school’s opera scenes program. “Nathan was such an inspiration to me,” says Emma, who subsequently chose to attend The Boston Conservatory for graduate school where Nathan was teaching at the time. One of her first experiences in Boston was singing the title role in Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia under Nathan’s direction. There she found another aspect of opera that she treasures: the sense of community. “We were telling a story that was meaningful for us and was so important for others to hear,” says Emma. “This is what really sold me.”
Emma also uses her voice and her body as a “vessel for connection” in dance, while singing in ensembles, and in her career as a model. “Putting on a costume and assuming another identity is the most freeing experience in the whole world,” she says. “In all of these pursuits, I’m doing exactly the same thing. I transform into a different version of myself. That’s who you have to be to survive the scrutiny of the camera. Also why, in my mind, I’ve been successful at both.” Emma is especially thrilled when all of her creative outlets intersect. On a recent photo shoot for Kohl’s, Emma performed Carmen for the crew. “In modeling, it’s not just how you look anymore. People want to know who you are – what your values are.”
When Emma was hired to perform as a soloist in Beethoven’s 9th with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra this weekend, she immediately thought about her community and her values. She reached out to FAshion designer Borris Powell, whom she met when walking his runway show in 2018. In addition to designing, Borris built the Saving Lives Foundation, a non-profit that teaches trades within the fashion industry to youth in underprivileged communities.
Borris was delighted to choose a black gown from his collection “with hidden sequins and shoulder to toe ruffles” for the occasion. “I wanted a bit of drama with ease for Emma,” says Borris. “She’s performing the ‘Ode to Joy’. I have a special love for this piece, so it only seemed fitting for us to work together for this performance. The power of Beethoven and the drama of this dress will pair beautifully with Emma. A moment to witness!”
It is also these values – teamwork, self love, curiosity and artistic vision – that connected Emma with Miguel Rodriguez and Athlone Artists. Emma first received feedback from Miguel several years ago as a young artist with Boston Lyric Opera. The two reconnected recently, and again, Emma found her community. “This is the right fit,” she says. “Miguel is going to be a great collaborator.”