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updated: 11/27/2013 3:59 PM

Once an opera soloist, Hawthorn Woods singer happy in chorus at the Met

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  • Opera singer Kate Mangiameli, of Hawthorn Woods, sings with The Metropolitan Opera chorus in New York City.

      Opera singer Kate Mangiameli, of Hawthorn Woods, sings with The Metropolitan Opera chorus in New York City.
    courtesy of Amy Peck

  • Opera singer Kate Mangiameli, of Hawthorn Woods, performs at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

      Opera singer Kate Mangiameli, of Hawthorn Woods, performs at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

 
 

In show after show across the U.S., crowds yelled "Brava!" after opera soprano Kate Mangiameli performed.

The Hawthorn Woods native thrived as a freelance soloist for 10 years, but the living-out-of-a-suitcase lifestyle eventually took its toll.

So when Mangiameli moved to Brooklyn, she took a job in commercial real estate and considered permanently changing careers.

But then an opportunity to audition for The Metropolitan Opera arose. Mangiameli tried out and didn't get a job immediately. But her phone rang six months later and she was asked to do a rare midseason fill-in for another singer.

Taking a leave of absence from real estate, she spent a few tense months singing with "The Met" in what she viewed as a working audition. But it turned out to be a successful one: In April 2012, Mangiameli was offered one of the coveted, full-time positions in The Metropolitan Opera chorus.

Today, Mangiameli, 35, performs 16 shows a year with the famous New York opera. Though singing in the chorus is far different from being a soloist, both musically and theatrically, Mangiameli couldn't be happier.

"I get to sing every day at the greatest opera house in the country and, arguably, the world. And the greatest joy is that, every night, I get to sleep in my own bed," she said. "For a little while, I considered giving up. It gets to a point where it's hard to earn a living (as a freelance opera singer). It's hard to maintain your energy and get rejected all the time. But the timing of this couldn't have worked out more perfectly."

Opera was not an obvious career choice for the suburban-born singer. While she sang in plays at Lake Zurich High School, classical music was never involved. At the encouragement of her drama teacher, Candace Glicken, Mangiameli decided to study music at Indiana University.

"My voice was louder than most people's, so it lends itself to opera singing," Mangiameli joked.

The first time she even saw an opera was during her freshman year of college.

"The first opera I saw was Mozart's 'Don Giovanni.' I watched it and thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm hooked.' So then I sort of threw myself into it without thinking how I'd feel about it, or if I'd like it."

A whirlwind of apprenticeships and performances followed, including stints with the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Young Artist program and Ravinia's Rising Stars program. As a freelance soloist, she sang with several opera companies around the U.S.

When auditioning for The Metropolitan Opera, she remembers having a gut feeling that she would get the job.

"The timing seemed right for me in my life," she said. "If there's a spot, if someone's going to leave, I'm going to get it. I just had a bizarre confidence about it."

It was a transition to go from being the star of the show to a chorus member, but one she was happy to make.

It's been nearly two years since Mangiameli started singing with The Met, but she still finds herself experiencing surreal moments, such as popping in on opera stars Bryn Terfel and Susan Graham in the backroom, or performing onstage with opera legend Stephanie Blythe.

"Her voice is so incredible. I turned to one of my colleagues onstage and made a face, like, 'This is amazing!'" she said. "Even standing onstage and looking out at the opera house is incredible. At rehearsal (last week), we were doing the second act of La Bohème, and I was lying down and listening to the music, thinking, 'This is crazy. I get to work here every day.' I do my best not to take it for granted ... because this is the best job in the world."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking from people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would be good to feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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