On A High Note

One of the opera world’s most celebrated sopranos ERIN MORLEY talks about intense rehearsals, how good it feels to be back on stage and why she chose to settle in New Canaan

The pandemic has caused a disruption for all of us in one way or another, but for New Canaan’s Erin Morley, the phrase “the show must go on” has a whole new meaning.

The uber-talented local mom of three has just wrapped her biggest career milestone to date—headlining the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere production of Eurydice. The show presents the Greek mythological story of Orpheus, who is desperate to rescue his love, Eurydice, from the underworld. This production, written only recently, follows a modern take on the story from Eurydice’s standpoint and has wowed audiences for its entire run from November 23 to December 16.

A fixture on the Met stage for years, Morley says that this show was her most challenging—and rewarding— to date.

“Eurydice is just so very modern. It’s quite lyrical and melodic and very hard to learn because of the unusual pitches that I wasn’t used to,” Erin explains from her Upper West Side hotel room at the end of a six-hour day of rehearsals. “The show is majestic and dramatic, which I absolutely love, but it comes with an intense psychological journey in this character who is on stage for the entire time, about three hours of nonstop performing at one time.”

Morley as Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Britten at the Vienna State Opera, pictured with Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon – Photo by Michael Poehn / Wiener Staatsoper


THE EARLY DAYS

Morley has literally been performing for almost her entire life. Her talent was first recognized by her professional violinist mother, Elizabeth Palmer, when she had Morley join her older sister in church for a choir performance. She was only 18 months old at the time and Morley says she is sure that’s when she caught the entertainment “bug.” She didn’t become serious though until she was about 11 years old when she moved with her family to Utah where her parents invested in a grand piano—an instant inspiration.

“Music was our love language as a family—even my father studied music before changing paths into medicine—I grew up with music in my blood, I performed in church a lot as a child, singing, playing the violin and the organ,” she explains.

Soon after sitting at her family’s piano for the first time as a child, Morley fell in love with it, spending her free time learning with lessons and practice. When she was about 16, Morley started voice training, it was then when she realized her real talent in operatic music.

“In opera, you don’t start training until you’ve gone through puberty and your voice changes to what it will become,” she explains.

As college became a reality, she decided she wanted to become a piano major and was floored when she made it into the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, not for piano, but for voice instead.

“I knew then that this was what I wanted to do,” she says. “It was as if my path was laid out for me, and it was a natural thing.”

During a break from Eastman, Morley was out one night at a performance that her mother was in at the University of Utah when she ran into an old friend, John, from eighth grade. He was on a date with another woman at the performance, but Morley went up to him anyway to say hello. The next day she received a call from John (whom she admitted she had a crush on in middle school). It turned out that John had kept his middle school phone book and looked her up. The two started dating while she finished her studies at Eastman and he at the University of Utah. When they completed their studies around the same time, Erin began working toward her masters at Julliard in New York and John at Yale Law School in New Haven. They soon married and settled in Stamford—a midpoint for commuting purposes.

“At the time, it was a great place for us, but when I had my first daughter we moved to New Haven,” she explains.

Morley as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier at The Metropolitan Opera. – Photo by Ken Howard / Met Opera


THE SHOW MUST GO ON

During the shutdown—which lasted longer in live theaters than in many other industries—Morley prepared herself for various roles, fine-tuning her skills and prepping as if these shows would eventually happen. Production after production was halted as Covid raged on. But this time—in her role as Eurydice in Eurydice—it all finally happened. And, as we witnessed the show for ourselves on December 16, it was, indeed, pure magic. After years of silence inside that famous opera house, Morley’s voice stunningly filled the space—and she clearly fed her audience exactly what we were all craving—a truly stunning live theatrical experience. If it weren’t for the masks on every member of that audience, it almost would have seemed as though Covid never happened.

We caught up with Morley one evening in her Upper West Side hotel room as she rested her stunning soprano voice after a six-hour day of rehearsal.

“I feel so lucky that this show is really going to happen,” she said back in late October. “It’s been quite a couple of years and I’m beyond happy to be able to be on that stage again.”

And she certainly knows how it feels to be on a stage. Morley has an impressive resume having performed various roles all over the world—in Vienna, Paris, Valencia, Santa Fe, Los Angeles—the list goes on. This month she should be heading to the Bavarian State Opera to play the role of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, but at press time, the pandemic situation in Germany was threatening to cancel that trip. If all goes as planned, Morley should be spending the next several months performing in various shows across Europe before returning to the U.S. in May to perform at the Washington Concert Opera in Washington, D.C.

“Either way, I am grateful that I have had this opportunity to perform,” she says. “And besides, the post-pandemic me doesn’t mind being home with my family.”

left: As Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos by Strauss at the Vienna State Opera, a role she will reprise in Munich this month at the Bavarian State Opera, and in Milan in April/May at La Scala. – Photo by Michael Poehn / Wiener Staatsoper; right: Morley as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach, Metropolitan Opera in New York – Photo by Michael Poehn / Wiener Staatsoper;


THE BIG MOVE

Morley moved with her family to New Canaan in June of 2020 when they surprisingly stumbled upon their dream home in a super competitive real estate market.

“When we found this house, we really couldn’t believe it,” she says from her in-town home on a sunny early December morning. It’s a light-filled modern farmhouse-style house built in 2018 with large windows and clean finishes—a huge difference from the antique home they lived in in New Haven. “There’s so much charm to an older home, but there is also always something to fix, so we love that this house is new, bright and more modern.”

Morley said the choice to move to New Canaan was a “no-brainer.” They’ve always loved the small-town vibe and had a great number of friends here already. Having three young children meant that New Canaan would provide a great public school system, too. Her oldest daughter, Maria, currently attends Saxe Middle School and recently starred as Moana in Moana, the school play.

“She always used to travel with me when she was younger,” she explains. “So she was with me every step and really loves the world of performing.”

left: Morley at home in New Canaan – Photo by Andrea Carson; right: Morley as Eurydice in Eurydice posters that hung in New York during the show’s run – poster by Paola Kudacki; Hair by Tera Willis and makeup by Marian Torre

New Canaan’s proximity to New York was also a bonus—allowing her to seamlessly travel into the city for work on a daily basis. It also allows her husband to travel to his professor job at Yale Law School in New Haven. But one of the biggest reasons they chose the town was because of its active Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community, in which the Morleys are dedicated to.

“It’s such a lovely community of people where we have been fortunate enough to meet many of our friends,” she explains. Morley’s passion even extends into the church, where she says she happily offers to sing for the congregation on special occasions, like Christmas or Easter.

In the little free time she gets these days, Morley says she has loved getting to know her new town.

“The mom in me really thrives here,” she says. “It’s been so nice to be in one spot while we all get to know this new town. During the pandemic we had lots of quiet time at home and I do miss that. When I performed, my kids would travel with me a lot but as they get older it’s just not a sustainable lifestyle for them. School becomes even more important, so being here has been providing that much-needed stability for them.”

Morley said she has found some favorite local spots, like dining at Elm, grabbing a salad from Greens on the Go and frequenting Walter Stewart’s. She also has a new-found love for paddle tennis, a true appreciation for Mead Park and the pool at Waveny.

“We just love that there is so much to do here, so many activities,” she says. “There’s this great exposure to sports and everything here revolves around family life. We are all so grateful to be a part of it all.”

top left: Morley backstage at Carnegie Hall with John Lithgow; bottom left: with John Lithgow and conductor Rob Fisher before a performance of Candide at Carnegie Hall; center: backstage with Bradley Cooper at the Kimmel Center in Philly after a performance of Candide with the Philadelphia Orchestra; top right: with Broadway diva Christine Ebersole in Candide at the LA Opera; bottom right: with star tenor Piotr Beczala after the opening night of Rigoletto at the Vienna State Opera – Photos: Contributed
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