By William T. Clew
The first time Sarah Callinan saw an opera was when she sang in it.
Miss Callinan, newly named artist in residence at Holy Name Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School, was a freshman at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, where she had won a scholarship.
A soprano, she sang the part of Damon in Acis and Galatea by George Frideric Handel. The libretto is in English, so she didn’t have to deal with learning another language in her first opera, she said.
Later, in college, she did study languages. She was in classes that had singers in mind, she said. She learned how the languages are built. She has sung roles in German, Italian and French. She said she can speak German and Italian but, because of lack of practice, is a “little rusty.”
Miss Callinan, daughter of James and Roberta Callinan, was born and raised in Worcester, attended Rice Square and East Middle schools and graduated from Holy Name in 1999.
What has become a classical musical career started in the music room at Holy Name during her freshman year. When Joseph Burke, who started the music program at the school in 1989, heard her sing he suggested that she take voice lessons.
“Oh, am I that bad?” she asked.
“No,” he said, “it’s that good.”
Her voice teacher was Jane Shivick, a Holy Name and Assumption College graduate who also studied at the Hartt School and has gone on to a successful teaching and singing career. Miss Callinan said she sang in the chorus and in summer theater. Mrs. Shivick would occasionally give her something more operatic and suggest she “try this.”
Mrs. Shivick was her teacher for four years, she said, and “taught me how to present my music and myself.” She learned classical technique. In her senior year at Holy Name, she said, she gave a full classical recital. She moved on to the Hartt School, then left to follow her voice teacher, who had moved from Hartt to the University of Connecticut.
Recently she and Mrs. Shivick joined forces to present concerts titled Dueling Divas and received laudatory reviews.
Miss Callinan graduated from UConn magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in music and a performer’s certificate in voice. In January 2005, she began an apprenticeship with the Connecticut Opera. Most apprenticeships lasted two years, she said, but she was asked to stay for three.
Most performances were in Connecticut, she said, but some were in other parts of New England, including Maine. Many were in school all-purpose rooms which doubled as auditoriums, gymnasiums and cafeterias. She sang every day, sometimes three times a day, on occasion, as early as 7:30 a.m.
“I learned how to be a singer,” she said, “and how to take care of my voice.”
Miss Callinan made her first international appearance after winning the Jenny Lind Competition, which included a recital tour in Sweden, according to her website. She is a 2009 and 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council audition regional finalist and was also awarded first prize in the Connecticut Opera Guild Competition, first prize winner and winner of the “Most Promising Coloratura” award in the Amici Competition with Opera Theater of Connecticut, a finalist in the Bel Canto Vocal Scholarship Competition, finalist in the Mezzo Opera Competition in Szeged, Hungary and most recently, won second prize at the Peter Elvins Vocal Competition.
She has sung a variety of roles in both opera and musical theater in the United States and in Europe. Among a long list of those are Despina in “Cosi Fan Tutti,” Blondchen in “The Abduction from the Seraglio” and Susanna in “The Marriage of Figaro,” all by Mozart; the title role in “Lakme,” by Leo Delibes, “Gilda” in Verde’s Rigoletto, Maria in Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment,” and Rosina in Rossini’s “The Barber of Saville.””
Operetta or light opera she has sung include Victor Herbert’s “Orange Blossoms,” Sigmud Romberg’s “The New Moon” and “The Merry Widow, by Franz Lehar.
She also has performed solo parts in Carl Orff’s cantata “Carmina Burana” and “Requiem” by Gabriel Faure.
And she has received some laudatory reviews. Jeffrey Johnson, reviewer for the Hartford Courant, said of her role in the Connecticut Concert Opera production of “The Barber of Saville,” “Sarah Callinan was an entertaining Rosina. She made her first impression in ‘Una voce poco fa,’ by winding both laughter and fury into complex figuration. (Miss) Callinan brought Lucille Ball energy to Rosina … and drew the most consistent laughs of the evening. (Miss) Callinan brought down the house…”
Michael Clive, reviewer for the The Republican-American in Waterbury, Conn., said, “Connecticut opera goers have been fortunate to hear Miss Callinan in a number of leading roles in recent years, and the wide range of her successes makes it tantalizing to guess where her career might take her next….
“I have heard her in Mozart and Menotti, and have duly noted that she had won competitions for her work in the coloratura repertoire. Still, to me, Miss Callinan sounds not like a coloratura specialist, but like a lyric soprano who is capable of singing coloratura simply because her technique is that good and her voice is that flexible. What’s more, she sings above the staff with ease.
“Her Rosina demonstrated other virtues that are equally rare, if less showy: a voice that is seamlessly produced throughout its extensive range; a flowing legato and a beautiful way of shaping a phrase; clear diction and a winning, graceful stage presence. And let’s face it: if you’re going to sing soubrettes and heroines, being as slim and attractive as Miss Callinan can’t hurt. Her biggest problem might be choosing a direction for her career in the years to come.”
As artist in residence at Holy Name, and in collaboration with Daniel Gabel, head of the music department and band director, and Brett Penza, technology instructor, she said she will direct the chorus. As part of the music ministry she will continue bringing liturgical music to in-school celebrations of the Mass. She also will continue her singing career and give private voice lessons.