By every stretch of the imagination, opera singer and University of Utah graduate Robyn VanLeigh is well on her way to a successful, exciting career. In 2017, she graduated with a master’s in music in vocal performance, which allowed her the opportunity to train with professionals both in Salt Lake City and abroad. This past April, she sang in a leading role in a production of La Rondine at Kingsbury Hall. She is also a member of the Utah Opera Chorus, where she performed at an Anniversary Gala featuring Renée Fleming, who, as VanLeigh stated, is regarded “as the premier soprano in America.”
But for all of her talent and dedication, VanLeigh did not always plan on opera as a career path. As an undergraduate, she initially planned on channeling her passion for music into the world of musical theater. These plans changed, however, when a professor suggested that VanLeigh try to sing classical music. This professor, who VanLeigh cites as an essential inspiration for her interest in opera, put her on an entirely new path. VanLeigh transferred to University of Tennessee, Knoxville, received her bachelor’s degree in music, and then went to the U for graduate school.
Though VanLeigh is quick to extol the virtues of musical theater, the world of classical music allowed her to learn and grow as an artist.
“Musical theater is as good as opera, but in different ways,” VanLeigh said. “[In musical theater] I don’t think I was singing with my full voice … [Through opera,] I’ve learned things about myself artistically, personally and emotionally.”
That is not to say, however, that the journey has always been easy.
“It can be a bit of a lonely life … You’re constantly applying for programs,” VanLeigh said. “You’re going and auditioning for them. You’re spending time away from home and your family to do this thing that you love — singing and performing.”
VanLeigh found that overcoming this challenge required seeking balance and understanding healthy limits. Without reasonable parameters set in place, she admitted, “It can be easy to get overwhelmed.”
For aspiring artists and performers, VanLeigh warned that it could be easy to get caught up in others’ ideas of perfection.
“Stay authentic and true to yourself,” VanLeigh said. “But don’t be afraid to accept advice along the way … I don’t think you are ever 100 percent perfect. I don’t think that happens.”
Right now, VanLeigh is taking her own advice as she advances to the next steps of her career. She is currently applying for Young Artist Programs (YAPs), where she hopes to continue training and receive additional career opportunities. The classical music world is a tough and competitive one. VanLeigh noted that a prestigious YAP might receive 1,000 applicants for only 20 spots. Those odds are enough to make anybody nervous. Throughout it all, VanLeigh is remaining level-headed and grateful for each opportunity that allows her to do what she loves: performing and developing her craft.
VanLeigh’s next appearance will be in the Utah Opera Chorus’ upcoming production of Pagliacci.