Maggie Finnegan, soprano

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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