My love affair with opera began with two unlikely men: John Denver and Mr. Microphone.
Some of the earliest photographs of me capture a petite 3-year-old wearing headphones practically the size of my pigtailed head, as I curled up with a blanket in a rocking chair, cradling the vinyl sleeve of “Rocky Mountain High.”
I was too young to comprehend why I liked it. But as I grew older and reflected upon it as music became a focal point in my life, there was something about the ease of a simple song like “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” contrasted with the jovial nature of “Country Boy” that was tuning my impressionable ear.
While neither of my parents were musicians, they loved all music. If it were like the food groups, my plate always had a hearty helping of everything from folk to blues, rock and R&B. I came to have that same admiration for a diverse spectrum of sound – so much that I would steal the smallest of my mother’s tapered antique brass candlesticks (as it fit best into my wee hand) from the center of the dining room table to use as a microphone so that I could stage “concerts” for my stuffed animals. That’s when my mother gifted me with an appropriate Mr. Mircophone.
If you were lucky enough to come of age in the 1980s, there was a period in the early part of the decade when dance became a heavy influence on popular music, thanks to the launch of MTV and movies like “A Chorus Line,” “Staying Alive,” “White Nights” and “Flashdance.” I was obsessed with the spectacle of it and immediately begged my mother for dance lessons. She obliged, also taking me to a production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” At 7 or 8 years old, it was my first exposure to classical music and a live orchestra. Because singing still brought me the most joy, I wondered if there was an outlet for making the same kind of music with my voice instead of with an instrument. As it turned out, there was, and by fifth grade, I had found my place in my first choir.
Despite my penchant for showy artistic outlets, I was painfully shy. And I while I loved singing, I stuck to the non-auditioned choirs and never dared auditioning for a solo. It wasn’t until high school that I was dared by a friend to audition for the spring musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” I can still remember walking to the stage, unable to feel my legs and as if there was cotton in my mouth. However, the next day, I was cornered by my choir director in study hall, was placed in the auditioned choir and, before I knew it, was preparing my first art songs and arias for state solo contests.
After that, opera and my fascination with all the human voice was capable of expressing to propel a story became my true love. Combined with the theatricality of costumes, sets and lighting, it was unlike any other artform I had ever known – a melting pot of drama, dance, languages and beautiful music that could be elegant and edgy at the same time.
I went on to study voice and – following another calling – journalism. Thanks to the support of the newsroom I work in today, I have been able to continue pursuing my passion for opera, both through Madison Opera Chorus and through numerous opportunities as a soloist. Opera introduced me to my husband, many of my best friends and some of the most memorable places and experiences I’ll ever have, on stage and off. And through it, I also found discipline, a work ethic and confidence that has carried me through life.
Who would have guessed that something as small as listening to John Denver from a rocking chair would lead to something so big?
Megan Gloss is a chorister with Madison Opera. When not singing, she is the Features Editor at the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa, where she covers the arts and entertainment happenings in her community. She also writes for Classical Singer, The Vocalist and VoiceCouncil magazines.