Quaker Valley grad sets sights on opera career

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 8:48 p.m.

Comments about the impracticality of her college major have not stopped Anna McTiernan of Sewickley from pursuing her dream of becoming an opera singer.

“I had an internship with Pittsburgh Opera's education department in high school, and I learned a lot about the historical and business side of opera. That's when I really decided I would like to pursue opera in college and as a career, despite the ‘What do you do with that useless degree,' comments,” she said.

McTiernan, 22, daughter of Brian and Debbie McTiernan and a 2008 graduate of Quaker Valley High School, graduated with a bachelor's degree in vocal performance/opera studies with a minor in arts management in May from the State University of New York, Purchase College Conservatory of Music.

She is applying to several schools to study for her master's degree. McTiernan will begin college again next fall.

This summer, McTiernan performed with Opera Theater of Pittsburgh as an apprentice artist for the summer fest at the Hillman Center in Fox Chapel, a new international training and performance program, taking the place of OPT's regular opera season.

She was chosen for the position after a live audition on New York University's campus last November.

She appeared as a chorus member in two of the shows — “The Magic Flute” and “Candide.”

“It was a terrific experience to work with my first fully professional company,” she said

“The networking aspect of it was very beneficial. I think I quizzed every singer about their grad school experience and other young artist programs.”

McTiernan's love of opera began when she participated in the Children's Festival Chorus in fifth through eighth grades, when she learned to sing a variety of music in many languages.

In high school, she participated in the vocal ensemble, the musical, “Oklahoma,” regional choir festival, Pittsburgh Savoyards, and the Junior Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.

In college, McTiernan participated in the Purchase College Chamber Singers, an audition-selected chamber choir, and performed with the Purchase Opera in New York.

She also has recorded two albums with her uncle, Jack McLaughlin of Green Tree, a singer, songwriter, pianist, guitarist, and music teacher at South Allegheny Elementary School.

McTiernan is backup singer for “Country Girl” and “Rockin' Under the Sun,” on McLaughlin's album, “The Season.” McLaughlin said his niece first learned the words to these songs when she was about 5 years old.

“Anna has an incredible voice that lent itself well to a pop style for this album, even though she is classically trained,” he said.

McTiernan also worked with her uncle to record two of his original children's songs for his next album.

“One of the songs is a very touching-type art song, ‘Come Here Hen.' Her singing was intensely passionate and beautiful,” McLaughlin said.

“I worked with her for many years when she was younger, and believe me, she really took to singing. She could sing the entire ‘Phantom' score by the age of 12.”

McTiernan said her uncle taught her piano and accompanied her singing when she was younger.

She said her voice is more suited for classical music, because she doesn't have a “belter” voice and always ends up singing higher, more classical style Rogers and Hammerstein tunes.

“That's why the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta style was such a great transition in high school.

“It wasn't full-out opera, but much better suited to my voice and future pursuits.”

Although she loves many things about singing opera, McTiernan said performing is the biggest adrenaline rush.

“It's great because no one is stopping you for notes or to redo something. You act in the mindset of your character uninterrupted for the whole performance, and every night is a little different.”

Her goal is to make a living as an opera singer

“Easier said than done, but that would be my definition of success.

“Singing at the Met (Metropolitan Opera in New York City) would be amazing of course, but I try to be realistic and music-oriented, not fame-oriented.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can bereached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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