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February 12, 2001

Opera Star to Grace FAC Stage

One of opera's rising stars will perform at Calvin College on March 31 at 8 p.m. as part of the college's 125th Anniversary celebrations.

Michelle De Young, mezzo soprano, attended Calvin before going on to study at two California universities and then joining the Metropolitan Opera's Young Artists Development Program. Since then she has quickly made a name for herself in international singing circles. She has sung with the Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras; overseas she has appeared with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1999-2000 she sang in Japan for the first time; in 2000-2001 she debuted with the New York Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra. She also has sung leading operatic roles in New York, Chicago, Paris and London.

The London Times raved about her voice, saying "Her increasingly voluptuous voice marks her out as the Jessye Norman of our day." The Daily Telegraph added that De Young sang with "gleaming tone and high intelligence."

Calvin organizers say bringing De Young back to her alma mater is a coup for Calvin and a fitting part of the 125th Anniversary celebrations.

"Michelle De Young is a superbly talented singer," says professor of music emeritus Howard Slenk. "Music has a long and vibrant tradition at Calvin. When we thought about how we wanted to tie music into the 125th Anniversary events it was a dream of ours to be able to bring Michelle back to campus. We are very pleased that we were able to put this concert together."

De Young grew up in Colorado and California as the youngest of four sisters, daughters of a Christian Reformed minister. She and her sisters grew up in a family of music lovers. Her father, she says, is a "classical music fiend" and all four girls spent considerable time as children singing in church.

Her big break in singing came in 1992 when she won the Metropolitan Council Award and joined the Met's Young Artist Development Program. She continues to reside in New York, where she studies with Trish McCaffrey, but spends most of her time on the road.

She says one obstacle to her opera career is her height. At 6-foot she worries about being typecast. In fact her height and her hair are often mentioned in reviews and profiles. A piece in the San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle noted that she is "an impossible singer to overlook," adding that "at 6-foot, with her Junoesque frame augmented by a huge mane of tight curls and supremely confident bearing, the American mezzo soprano is a commanding physical presence. And when she starts to sing the effect is even more striking still."

Slenk agrees.

"Michelle," he says, "has an amazing stage presence. But her voice is what earns her the well-deserved international acclaim. It is large and lustrous and soars out over the full orchestra with a splendor reminiscent of Flagstad and Nilsson. Her recent performance as Brangaene in Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde' won rave reviews in Chicago and Seattle. Her appearance in Grand Rapids will be a rare treat for opera fans and lovers of singing."

De Young will be accompanied by pianist Kevin Bylsma, also an alum of Calvin College. Tickets for the show are just $10 and are available at the Calvin Box Office or by calling 957-6282.

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Contact Phil de Haan.