Opera star traces success back to MC, years in Europe
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Had her high school friend Eleanor not chosen Maryville College and influenced Delores Ziegler to come here as well, Ziegler might have ended up a psychiatrist instead of one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos in the opera world.
Had Ziegler not auditioned and won a part in MC’s annual performance of “The Messiah” those many years ago, that music career again might have never taken flight.
And had Ziegler not grabbed on with both hands when the opportunity to tour the many opera houses of Europe came her way — well let’s just say opera lovers across the world are doubly glad she did.
Right place, right time
Ziegler, born in Decatur, Ga., attended MC beginning in 1969 and started with the intentions of majoring in psychology. She did come to MC because college officials visited the church where she and her best friend Eleanor attended.
“My best friend decided that’s where she wanted to go to college, so that’s where I decided I wanted to go, too,” Ziegler said.
She did have a background in music, just not classical music. Her whole family sang in church and Ziegler had taken piano for at least a decade. Almost on a whim, she decided to audition for a solo part in “The Messiah,” at MC, never dreaming she would get the part.
“Then they told me, ‘You might want to think about majoring in music,’” Ziegler recalled. “I went, ‘Really?’”
She enrolled in some music classes and said one of her professors took them to see the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. That experience pretty much sealed her fate.
“It was so exotic to me, to be able to sing with all of those beautiful costumes and in different languages. I just fell in love with it,” Ziegler recalled.
After graduating from MC, Ziegler stayed in East Tennessee for a while and ended up earning her master’s degree in music from the University of Tennessee. It was while at UT that Ziegler said she was given a huge opportunity — her first big break. One of her professors took a few of his students to Europe where Ziegler got to perform in various opera houses. She ended up signing a two-year contract to stay and perform in Germany. That two years turned into 14.
“They have a real tradition of classical music in Europe,” Ziegler explained. “Every little town has an opera house. There was more work than I could take care of. I got to work for some of the best conductors at the time. The opportunities were amazing.”
That move to Europe came in 1981. Ziegler, who now serves as chair of the voice/opera division at the University of Maryland, has appeared in the world’s greatest opera houses over the years. She has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, in Vienna, in Dresden and at the Bolshoi Opera. The list of her leading roles is nothing short of spectacular. She is probably best known for her role as Dorabella in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.” She has recorded the role on CD more than any other mezzo.
In town recently to deliver the commencement speech at MC’s gradation, Ziegler also spent time working with some MC music students earlier in the week. She was able to talk with, listen to and offer advice as these students were in the same place she was decades ago.
“A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time and being prepared,” this singer said. She said at the time, Europe was the best decision she could have made for herself. “If you weren’t in New York City itself, it was hard to have a career that many years ago,” she said. “I wasn’t really ready to move to New York City. I knew that I would have to take two or three jobs just to afford an apartment.”
So many great roles
It’s hard for Ziegler to choose her favorite shining moment. But one of them has to be her portrayal of Octavian in Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.”
It’s a huge, expensive production to produce, she said and one in which women play the male roles. There is a trio of voices that together transforms Ziegler to another stratosphere.
“When you are singing it, you almost feel like your feet aren’t on the ground,” she said. “You feel like you are not of this earth when you are singing that will all three voices.”
Ziegler does recall one of her most embarrassing moments. As a young student, she was asked to sing for Lili Chookasian, the world’s leading contralto who enjoyed a long and successful career with the Metropolitan Opera. Back then, Ziegler said she had no idea who Chookasian was. She sang in shorts and bare feet.
“When I think back on that, I am so embarrassed,” she said. “I didn’t know who she was. I just sang for anybody.”
After leaving Maryville, earlier this week. Ziegler traveled to Jonesborough to spend time with her sister, daughter and two grandchildren, who are 2 years old and 3 months. When asked what she is most proud of over her long and successful career, it wasn’t fame or fortune. It was a little closer to home.
“Being a woman and being able to balance having two children and a career,” she said.