Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My chosen instrument is the voice, but I actually began my musical journey playing the flute. I was 14 years old when I was sitting in a corridor playing, then humming the passages back and fourth. The choir tutor heard me humming and asked me enthusiastically “why aren’t you in choir? you have a great voice!”. (At my school, you could only choose either band or choir because they clashed.) Soon after, the choir teacher created an after-school choir, and I joined. Inevitably, the choir fell apart but I continued to sing and she began to teach me privately. It was in our private lessons that she would teach me about Italian art song, folk song, lieder and eventually, opera. A few years later, I went to Cleveland Heights High School and received great guidance from my choral director. By the time I was 18, I was apart of every singing ensemble at the school, except Men’s Chorus! It was at this point that my choir director said “you were born for this” and I knew I had to become a professional singer.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There have been many, many influences and wonderful people in my life who’ve helped to cultivate my musical career. Early on, my high school choral director Craig Macgaughy influenced me the most. He opened my eyes to all different types of music and always encouraged me to audition for solos, to stand tall and to be proud my performance. “You must bow!” he would yell from the wings, as I leaned forward, feeling like I was going to crumble – but I never did. He didn’t allow it. Later in life, I went to the Manhattan School of Music and began to study voice with Joan Patenaude-Yarnell, whom I still study with. This is where I truly began to find my voice and my confidence as an opera singer. It was here that I learned about the bel canto technique, specifics about how the voice and breath are always connected, and how to truly breathe life into whatever I’m singing. I learned how to be a professional opera singer and I recognized I am an artist in my own right, which redirected my approach to music in its entirety.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

One of the things I find challenging is the lack of time I have to spend time with family and friends. I think in any competitive career, striking a work-life balance can be difficult. With opera, the travelling makes dates and deadlines fairly inflexible. I’ve missed a couple of weddings and baby-showers because I have a rehearsal or a performance far away. As I get older and more experienced, I am finding ways to make time for both work and my personal life, but I believe that being an artist in the professional realm requires a lot of focus and dedication. This is a small sacrifice, as the pros heavily outweigh the cons in this business. As a result, my friends have started giving me dates more than a year in advance, to ensure my attendance!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve had the privilege of performing at Buckingham Palace singing Strauss’ Morgen with orchestra for a gala sponsored by HRH Prince Charles of Wales and The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD). That performance sticks out to me because I met a lot of wonderful people, including Shirley Bassey, who enjoyed my performance and later gave me a scholarship to help with tuition while at RWCMD. I’ve also had the pleasure of singing for HRH Prince Charles of Wales at private events, singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs in St. David’s Hall in Cardiff and singing Verdi’s 4 Sacred pieces under Sir Mark Elder with the Hallé Orchestra. Favourite opera to date: definitely Falstaff as Alice Ford under Maestro Carlo Rizzi at RWCMD. She is such a fun, witty character to play!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Generally, I enjoy to singing Opera and lieder from the romantic period. I find that the texture and colour of my voice fit the characters, and naturally pick up on the nuances of the repertoire. Composers like Puccini, Verdi, Strauss, and Donizetti really speak to me. All clearly different and distinct in their own right, but it’s something about the words. The way these composers set them to music, develop a story within a story, paint the music with the words and the vocal lines – it’s like magic to me. I recently did a performance of Strauss’ Opus. 27 and I believe this music is all encompassing. It shows, musicality, difficulty in keeping the legato line always shimmering, and all the while thoroughly expressing the meaning of the text. I get to take the audience on a journey, rather than give them a performance of songs. There are, however, many composers that I adore outside of this period, including Beethoven and my beloved Mozart, who wrote some of the most beautiful and timeless melodies I’ve ever encountered. I am also passionate about American Negro Spirituals and I enjoy singing works and arrangements by Moses Hogan, Margaret Bonds and most recently, Ricky Ian Gordan.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Each year, I have a point where I sit down and evaluate where I am in my career and my singing. I am very aware of my constant development and of what is required to sustain and longevity in my career. I work with my teacher and my coaches to create 3 categories: Repertoire that shows what I can do now, rep that I am working on/will do in the next few years, and rep for the further future. After I’ve got my three categories, I then decide whether to accept or decline offers based on the criteria above and I do not waiver. I feel strongly that once I’ve decided a role isn’t appropriate, it is not a good idea to go for it anyway. I believe you do yourself more harm by singing a role or piece of work prematurely, rather than waiting until the time is right. I understand that sometimes exceptions must be made, and that’s OK. However, there is a difference between doing something well and doing something so well that it exceeds expectation. “Can I do this?” “Can I do this well?” “Can I knock this out of the park?” The answers to all of these questions should always be “yes” before you take the work.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’m not sure that I have a favourite venue to perform in because I get excited anywhere I get to sing. That being said, I love singing at St. Martin-in-the-Fields because the church is beautiful and the audience is very diverse, being right in central London. I also love singing in intimate recital venues, where I can see and interact with people in the audience. For opera, I love the big stages/opera houses like the London Coliseum at ENO and the beautiful grounds and theatre at Glyndebourne. Quite excited for The Met next season!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Whitney Houston, Leontyne Price, Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, Vladmir Horowitz, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Enya, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gellespie – to name a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I did performance a long while ago at Oberlin in Italy from a scene in I Capuleti e i Montecchi and I remember finishing the performance and one of my friends who played in the orchestra was sobbing uncontrollably. When I asked him what was wrong, he said it was “the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen”. He’d never really heard opera or been a fan of the type of singing we do, but he was forever changed after that seeing that one scene. From then onward I learned just how powerful music is and how important it is for the betterment of our society.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Performing all over the world, making connections with all walks of life, moving something within someone’s soul, empowering women and men alike, inspiring those who’ll follow in my footsteps, creating a life that is filled with love, laughter, good food and beautiful music – this is what success looks like to me.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I like to keep things simple. So:

Be prepared. Be on time. Be a good colleague. Love what you do. Even if you don’t actually love it, find something in it that excites you. Practice until you can’t get it wrong. Trust the process, but also know that it’s perfectly acceptable to go the road less travelled. Trust yourself and trust your instincts. No one knows you better than yourself. Every once in a while, Stop. Relax. Smell the flowers and experience all that life has to offer. Seems cliché but most musicians need to be reminded from time to time that we are human, and that’s OK.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In ten years time, I hope to be doing exactly what I’m doing now: Singing at amazing opera houses and venues all over the world! I also hope to expand my efforts to help introduce classical music to children and adolescents, particularly from rough backgrounds. I want to start a foundation that serves as a gateway to the art form, and provides lessons and coaching to kids, regardless of their parents’ financial ability. Second to singing, this is a passion of mine and I am quite excited to see this through over time.

What is your most treasured possession?

It’s not particularly treasured, but one thing I travel with is place mat that I bought from Paris when I was 20 years old. It was my first time going overseas and I’ve had it with me on every trip since. Also quite handy, since I usually have an herbal tea at my bedside. I’m never ruin the antique tables, dressers etc. that I come in contact with at some of my amazing house and hotel stays. Simple but it gives me a sense of comfort, which is nice when you’re away for months on end.

What is your present state of mind?

I have this feeling of eagerness, or readiness bubbling in me. I’m excited to get my hands dirty and to delve into new projects. I am ready to take my artistic skills to the next level and I wake up every day thinking of new ways to challenge myself. I carve through my rep, paying close attention to the small details. I feel a sense of jubilation, like every day is a new adventure. I feel grateful, humble and blessed to be able to do what I love for a living. I live in a state of blessed assuredness.


Praised for her attractive singing by the New York Times, American soprano is the newest sensation on the international opera scene. Engagements this season include her debut with Welsh National Opera as Anna Gomez in The Consul, and her upcoming debut at The Metropolitan Opera as Annie in Porgy and Bess. She returns to St. David’s Church for a performance of the Mozart Requiem with Cardiff Philharmonic Choir, under Maestro Alun Guy. This season also marks the premier of Chanae’s original composition “My Words in People’s Ears” commissioned by contemporary artist, Anna Falcini in her latest exhibition, In Between the Folds are Particles.

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(Artist photo: Harlequin Agency)

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

I honestly don’t recall having a specific moment where I decided to make music my career! Both of my parents are professional instrumentalists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, so I quite literally grew up in the Civic Opera House, learning music as my true mother tongue. I was even a little gingerbread munchkin in Lyric’s production of Hansel und Gretel when I was six! Genuinely terrified of the witch, I learned that we are able to experience the stories we tell on stage just as viscerally as our ‘real’ lives. I simply haven’t known any other way of living, so while I entertained the idea of other professions, I got hooked on always having an outlet to express myself and I can’t seem imagine doing anything else. Music is as much a lifestyle as it is a profession.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Most definitely my parents; there’s nothing like hearing Strauss played on the horn everyday growing up to influence a soprano! My folks started me on piano at the age of four and violin at seven before I got anywhere near singing lessons, but it became clear that voice was my calling when I began to sight-sing all my concertos, my violin conveniently resting on the lid of our piano. I must have been born with a singer’s brain because I could always learn music faster with my voice than with an instrument in hand! I was also really shaped by my time in the Chicago Children’s Choir, a boundary-busting organization dedicated to bringing kids of diverse socio-economic backgrounds together by exploring music of all genres and styles from across the globe. My time in CCC taught me that my work as an artist always has the potential to make a cultural or societal impact.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Something I have to consciously work at is staying grounded. I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life, often getting swept away by my extremely active imagination which is often on the train to la-la-land. When I discovered yoga, I realized that I could help myself stay in the present if I choose to do so. Dedicating myself to a consistent mindfulness practice has completely changed my life, and I love it so much that I actually completed a yoga teacher training program last spring! It can be difficult to set time aside for self-care, but the impact of even ten minutes of stillness has such a large ripple effect throughout my mind-set, relationships, singing, and general well-being that I try my best to include some quality yoga-and-meditation-time each day.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oof, I think I have two! Last summer, I was a Vocal Fellow at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, where I spent an idyllic four-weeks completely saturated in some of my favorite art song repertoire. In one of the final performances, I got to sink my teeth into some lesser-known, extremely romantic Joseph Marx lieder in a livestreamed recital (which is now on YouTube!), the perfect end to a perfect month. The other event which stands out for me is when I was 20 and performed the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning on tour with Oberlin’s Contemporary Music Ensemble to my hometown, Chicago. Seeing all my loved ones’ faces in the audience for my first big premiere made the occasion only that much more special. We recorded the piece and it’s going to be released on the Oberlin Music label sometime soon!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Joseph Schwantner’s Two Poems of Agueda Pizarro is a favorite of mine. I have a video of the work posted online and somehow Schwantner himself found it, tracked my website down, and sent me a lovely note about my performance! I most definitely screamed when I saw that a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer had popped up in my inbox.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Who my audience is plays a key role in what I choose to perform. I always try to find a balance between both obscure and familiar repertoire, but the calibration of the two depends on the occasion. Sometimes I aim to create an environment where listeners can turn inward and explore themselves more intimately and other times I hope to encourage empathy and an expansion of the definition of ‘self.’ My goal, always, is to use the energy of music to connect and heal. I strive to work from these intentions outwards, using music as the medium for sharing radical honesty and generosity.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’m really looking forward to my Wigmore Hall debut with The Prince Consort this March, to say the least! So many of the most influential artists in music have performed in that intimate space; it’s where history itself is made. I also love singing in Preston Bradley Hall in Chicago’s Cultural Center, one of the lesser known gems in my hometown, because of its enormous Tiffany glass dome and view of Millennium Park. It feels like home!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Hannigan, Kurt Elling, Renée Fleming, Jonas Kaufman, Robert Glasper, Karina Gauvin, Frank Sinatra, Yo-Yo Ma, Beyoncé

What is your most memorable concert experience?

While I was a student at Oberlin, I played the role of Thérèse in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, this crazy surrealist one-act where the main character denounces her femininity and goes off to regain authority of her life. In the first scene, as she rejects the restrictions of being a woman, she grows a beard and moustache….and her breasts fly away because they’re secretly balloons! I had a blast shocking the audience each night, so much so that I even choreographed a one-handed cartwheel into my staging just for the heck of it. I felt so free in our little surrealist world, buoyant enough let go of myself and explore the absurd.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success for me comes down to honesty. Even though I am a recovering perfection addict, I still believe my best performances have been the ones where my feet were firmly planted on the ground, my head was held high, and my heart beat proudly on my sleeve, regardless of miscellaneous mistakes and mishaps. Vulnerability is often both a performer’s kryptonite and Achilles’ heal, so I call it a success when I’ve allowed myself to be entirely generous with my spirit and had a little fun while I was at it.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

We are first and foremost human beings; our art can only be born out of our humanity.

On a more tangible level, I want to emphasize that our minds and bodies are as much our instruments as the cello, trombone, or vocal cords which vibrate to create sonic waves. The more lined up the mind-body-spirit connection is, the easier making music gets.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Doing it all and probably trying to find enough hours in the day to make it happen! I would love to have a balance between opera, concert, and recital work with a healthy mixture of classical and contemporary repertoire. Maybe not in 10 years’ time but in 20, I would like to have a hand in creative strategic planning to help steer how we move classical music forward. I have always envisioned myself with a family, so that’s a must for me, too.

What’s your current state of mind?

Sleepy but satisfied 🙂

 


Chicago-born soprano Olivia Boen completed her undergraduate studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in May of 2017 and will be starting her MM at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London this autumn. Olivia has been seen on the Oberlin Opera Theater stage as the title roles in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Händel’s Alcina, as well as the leading ladies in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Händel’s Serse with the Oberlin in Italy program in Tuscany. In January 2016, she had the distinct honor of performing the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning with the Contemporary Music Ensemble on Oberlin’s 150th Anniversary Tour to her home city. The piece will be released on the Oberlin Music record label in late 2018. Olivia has participated in masterclasses with such renowned artists as Renée Fleming, Eric Owens, and Marilyn Horne. Recent accolades include 2018 First Place Winner at the Musicians Club of Women of Chicago, 2017 First Place Winner at the Tuesday Musical Competition, and finalist in Oberlin’s Senior Concerto Competition.

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Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

I grew up with a passion for singing, and when I got to grade school, I met my music teacher who encouraged me to sing in school performances and consider pursuing it as a career. At age 7, my parents took me to my first opera (Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) at San Francisco Opera and I was absolutely hooked. At age 10 I joined a local community theater and began performing musical theater while I waited to grow into my “opera voice.” It was during a summer program after my junior year in high school where I met my undergrad teacher and mentor, Edith Bers. She encouraged me to come to New York City to get my Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at Manhattan School of Music. I have had the unique experience of being encouraged at every turning point in my journey towards becoming a professional singer, and for that I am grateful to many people.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

The community theater that I joined as a kid had a profound influence on my passion for performing. It was at The Western Stage that I forged my deepest friendships and became completely hooked on the “theater” lifestyle and experience. The environment of professionalism, acceptance and community still shapes what I seek out and what fulfills me in my career journey.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

For a long time, I thought there was one way to be a classical singer… go to a prestigious conservatory, immediately start performing in Young Artist Programs, then sit back and watch as your career blossomed. I realized as an undergrad at MSM that I didn’t fit into the “standard” mold of the classical opera singer. Despite everyone being impressed with my talent and performances, I never seemed to book the roles in the Mozart operas, and I didn’t know why. I felt out of place for a long time, unsure of where I fit, and where I would find my community within the classical world. After my senior recital at MSM, my teacher Edith Bers told me and my mother, “Maggie will find her place in this career… I don’t know what it is yet, but there is a place for her, and she will find it.” I have replayed this statement in my head many times and I’ve kept my trust in her vision for me. With perseverance and an open mind, I have finally found my place in this world.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I performed O Zittre Nicht at the Washington Award Gala last Spring in Washington DC, and the video from that performance is one of my favorites. It was the first time I’d performed the aria, and I had a great time singing it, and I believe the video reflects that joy.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Hands down my favorite thing to sing, and the thing I think I sing the best, is a song by composer Lembit Beecher called “A Paradoxical Thing.” It is from his song cycle Looking at Spring for soprano, violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano. The song is for solo soprano and is virtuosic, charming, thoughtful and through it I can express everything that makes me unique as a performer.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My repertoire is driven largely by the composers that I meet or work with throughout the year. I concentrate on new opera and art song and feature this repertoire when I design my own programs. I also peruse social media to see what my favorite artists are performing and go down the youtube rabbit hole looking for new and exciting musical adventures.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I don’t have a specific favorite venue, but my favorite type of venue is hands down the black box theater. While the acoustics often leave something to be desired, I love being close to my audience and I feel that the blank canvas of an empty room has great dramatic potential. A black box theater can become anything the artists want and allows them to take the audience on a dramatic and musical journey. I also believe that because often the actors and audience members are on the same plane (the stage is not raised), the black box can be an equalizer, knocking down the artificial barriers that often separate the performers from the ‘non performers.’ This helps me feel like my audience is with me and not just passively witnessing the action on stage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favorite musicians are people who create straight from their truth with joy in their heart. I am fortunate to work with a group called The Broken Consort.As a group we devise and create new programs using music spanning from medieval to contemporary. Using improvisation, discussion and trial and error, we hone in on the truest expression we can make, and through this process we have produced amazing music as well as lasting and deep friendships. I have so much respect and I highly value anyone who inspires me to live and create from my true self.

Some of my other favorite classical musicians are Stephanie Blythe, Frederica Von Stade, Anthony Roth Constanzo, Joyce DiDonato, Dawn Upshaw and John Shirley-Quirk.

My current favorite non-classical musician is Janelle Monáe. Her incredible music and performances coupled with her message of self-love, acceptance, inclusivity and perseverance absolutely transport me to a place of bliss (and fierceness!)

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This past spring I performed the workshop of part of a piece I am creating entitled Reassemble With Care. Members of The Broken Consort and I devised the music around a text that I wrote, which is based on my personal experience with sexual assault. Performing Movement 12 was a deeply moving experience, and embodies everything I am searching for as a performer. While on stage I felt completely connected with and supported by my fellow musicians. Using the words I wrote as my guide, I fearlessly improvised the music, subconsciously accessing all the technique I have honed over my 20 years of study, and the result was magical. I felt my body deeply grounded on the stage and felt my voice reach high and out into the room. It felt like true freedom, and is a moment I will never forget. Next fall we’re going to premiere the entire work, which consists of written music by composer Dominick DiOrio and devised music by myself and The Broken Consort.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is achieved when I am able to support myself financially by performing in a way that fulfills me artistically. Performing in this way means that I am free to access my own creativity, call upon my vocal technique, and explore new ways to express myself.

I think it is entirely possible for people to be successful performers while working other jobs to supplement their income, but for me this element is part of my own personal goal in my career path.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Find out exactly how you want to use your talent and create opportunities to make that vision come true. It’s very easy to get caught up into trying to fit into a “mold” as a classical artist, and I believe that true fulfillment comes from creating straight from individual truth. While you’re taking the time to hone your skills and perfect your craft, take as many diverse opportunities as possible to broaden your knowledge of what is out there. Then when you’ve figured out what you want to do, go create something uniquely yours.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like to be living with my partner (it doesn’t matter where) and still traveling for work. I would like to be performing at least 3 large-scale operas a year in major houses and pursuing my own projects the rest of the time. My own projects could include cabarets, art song recitals, salons, and anything else I come up with!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is being in the moment and fully experiencing the abundance around me.

What is your most treasured possession?

Okay, moment of vanity here… My most treasured possession is probably the hair paste I use to style my hair. My haircut is a very big part of my personal identity, and the paste makes this image possible. It seems silly, but my hair feels like a talisman that helps me to take the world on with strength and well… style 🙂


Hailed by The Washington Post for her ‘silvery, pitch-perfect voice’ and by Opera News for her ‘noteworthy acting prowess,’ Maggie Finnegan is a versatile soprano, singing repertoire spanning from medieval to contemporary. Awards include the S&R Foundation’s 2017 Washington Award,  First Place in the Washington International Competition for Voice and second place in The American Prize Competition. Specializing in new opera, she performed the world premiere of Lembit Beecher’s opera Sophia’s Forest , Beth Morrison Projects: Next Generation and Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince with Opera Parallele.  She made her Handel and Haydn Society solo debut at Jordan Hall, singing the soprano arias in Bach Cantatas 36 and 147.  Past seasons included premiers with Vital Opera, The American Chamber Opera Company in New York City and the Center for Contemporary Opera in Louis Andriessen’s Odysseus’ Women/Anais Nin.  Other career highlights include The Sound of Music  with Paper Mill Playhouse, the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s School Touring Program of The Magic Flute and Boris Godunov with The Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Her recent concert appearances include performances with the Avanti Orchestra, the New Dominion Chorale, The Camerata Singers of Monterey County, The City Choir of Washington, the Handel and Haydn Society and the PyeongChang Winter Music Festival in South Korea. She was featured as a soloist in the revival of the play Extraordinary Measures, in which she worked with Tony award winning playwright/activist Eve Ensler.

An avid chamber music performer and recitalist, concert highlights include the U.S. Premiere of Jacob TV‘s Van Grote en Kleine Vogels (for soprano and soundtrack) at the 2018 {Re}Happening Festival at Black Mountain College, Paola Prestini’s Body Maps with Fresh Squeezed Opera  and studying American art song with Stephanie Blythe as a Fall Island Fellowship Artist.  She is a core member of the critically acclaimed ensemble The Broken Consort, which recently presented the world premiere of Movement 12 of her new project Reassemble With Care.   Maggie honed her improvisation skills at the Opera Works Advanced Artist Program and has since then made improv a regular practice.

Maggie earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Manhattan School of Music and her Master of Music degree from Peabody Conservatory. She currently splits her time between New York City and Boston, where she shares a home with her partner and three step-kids. 

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