Friday, April 30, 2010

The Nightingale

Sylvia McNair is our la la la la la la la la hero! Sylvia McNair '78 is an American opera singer and classical recitalist who has also achieved notable success in the Broadway and cabaret genres. McNair, a soprano, has made several critically acclaimed recordings and has won two Grammy Awards. Her journey has taken her from the Metropolitan Opera to the Salzburg Festival, from the New York Philharmonic to the Rainbow Room, from the Ravinia Festival to The Plaza. She traveled through a fierce, well-fought battle with breast cancer filled with surgeries, chemo, and radiation to end up in the trenches helping others survive.

Sylvia has collaborated with an array of today’s most prominent conductors including Seiji Ozawa, Kurt Masur, Leonard Slatkin, AndrĂ© Previn, Neville Marriner and the late Robert Shaw. Rex Reed once swooned: "I could get used to this kind of ecstasy.”She stopped along the way to produce over 70 recordings. She was thrilled to accept the invitation to sing the Bach B-minor Mass with the Vienna Philharmonic for Pope John Paul II at The Vatican, to sing for Hillary Clinton, and to perform at The U.S. Supreme Court by special invitation from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. A proud Buckeye from Mansfield, Ohio, Sylvia earned a Masters degree with Distinction from the Indiana University School of Music, received honorary doctorates from Westminster College and Indiana University.

Since the late 1990s, McNair has changed the focus of her singing career to Broadway and jazz styles. In these genres she has achieved considerable critical acclaim and commercial success.

We sat down with Sylvia at Applebees in Palm Beach to see what impact going to Wheaton has had on her life  and career.

W.H. We are huge fans, but let me get the hard question out of the way first. Why did you take Wheaton College off all of your bios, but still kept Indiana University and Westminster College.
Sylvia: I was trying to dodge those awkward fundraising calls. No, seriously, I've become friends with the Clintons and their circle of friends. Hillary pulled be aside one day and said that I needed to downplay the whole conservative Republican background and then I should switch my music style to Broadway and jazz. Already people associate my name with a hair removal product. Hillary's was some of the best advice anyone's ever given me.

W.H. I read that you had an invitation to sing for Pope John Paul II, what was that like?
Sylvia: I was a nervous wreck…and I’m not even Roman Catholic, but still, he’s the pope and he was no dope, hey that rhymes.

W.H. What has been a career highlight for you?
Sylvia: This past summer, I got to do a production of Camelot, so I got to sing Queen Guenevere. I had the amazing Broadway legend George Hearn singing King Arthur and the always inspiring gorgeous Rod Gilfry who comes out of the opera world singing Lancelot, so there was lots of eye and heart candy in that production.

W.H. What are you working on now?
Sylvia: I've been asked by Wheaton College to write and perform in an opera with Wendy White for the inauguration of the new President on September 17th. I've done a lot of soul searching and written something very poignant.

W.H. What can you tell us about it?
Sylvia: Ok, you are the first to hear it. The theme is based on feudalism or some would say, futilism. It is the story of serf, Joshushua, who developed a deep personal conviction that God had called him to a life that included porcus. When the serf approached the rich land owner king, the king told him that on this land there would be no porcus raising or eating, and threaten the serf with a vow of vengeance if he continued. The peasant page (wife of the Joshushua), pleads with Joshushua to live a life of secrecy where he raises the porcus in the dark. Joshushua's brother also storms in with a small band of infantry in the second act, but Joshushua convinces them not to kill the king but be still and listen to the will of God. In the final act, Joshushua pleads for mercy, while the towns people surround him. The king however, strong in resolution, cuts off the head of a temporary statue of Joshushua in a symbolic deliverance to hell. The king yells out - no porcus, faithful affirmation! This act forever damages the family name and takes away the bread from the table of his wife and children. Joshushua walks up the long steps and kisses the ring of the king before leaving the land forever.

W.H.  That sounds incredible, Is it a period piece taking place during the High Middle Ages in Europe, or nineteen century Northern Ireland?
Sylvia: No, it's a present-day tale that takes place in the midwest.

W.H. What's the name of the Opera?
Sylvia: Hochschild

W.H. Thank you, Sylvia. 
P.S. nice dog photo.

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