By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor
Alyson Cambridge, an operatic soprano, who appeared in the 2018 Toledo Opera’s production of Carmen, will be returning to the Valentine Theatre next week in the starring role of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow.
Cambridge, who has won numerous voice competitions over the years and has appeared on many of the world’s elite opera stages, seems to be particularly pleased to be reprising a role of Hanna Glawari, a wealthy widow, that she has sung twice before.
“She’s an interesting character,” says Cambridge of the Widow, “parts of which I can relate to. She’s savvy, she knows about the world, she knows about the ways of men and she has fun with that.”
Cambridge arrives at the Valentine during a period in which her career is in full bloom on so many fronts. The accolades she receives reflect the admiration audiences have felt for her performances.
“Radiant, vocally assured, dramatically subtle and compelling, and artistically imaginative,” wrote one columnist in the Washington Post after hearing her in L’elisir d’amore.”
“Cambridge … possesses a stunning, richly hued voice …” wrote a New York Theatre Guide reviewer after a performance on Broadway.
The soprano had become, in fact, more than an operatic performer. She sings jazz standards, American songbook pieces, popular songs. She’s a model and has become an actor in a few television shows.
Above all, however, she is an opera soprano, a path she set upon, or was set upon, at the age of 12 when she arrived for her first visit with a music coach and expressed her interest in the popular stylings of Madonna and Whitney Houston. When she sang during that first visit, the coach was astonished and advised her to set her sights on classical music. She compared her 12-year-old prodigy to 17 and 18-year-olds with years of such training behind them.
Cambridge took that advice and loved the undertaking, loved classical music, loved what she could do with her voice. While she spent the following years as a normal teenager at her Washington, D.C. school, playing soccer and participating in other extracurricular activities, she had an almost secret, “not cool,” life with her vocal studies and winning vocal competitions against much older youngsters.
Cambridge attended Oberlin College pursuing a double major in voice performance and sociology, hedging her bets on whether she would continue to enjoy her musical endeavors and ultimately be successful with them.
She took the plunge after college, giving herself five years to make her mark in music. If that didn’t work, it would be off to law school.
She didn’t need the five years to make her mark. She barely needed a fraction of that time.
Shortly after graduating Cambridge won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the youngest Grand Prize winner ever. A year later she made her debut at the Met in Carmen.
And law school? Who needs law school?
A major career change came about in 2012 when Cambridge, finally ignoring the advice so often proffered by those in the opera world know to “stay in your lane,” ventured away from her opera roots and sang the role of Julie – the doomed, mixed-race songstress – in Showboat at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. That appearance not only opened up Cambridge’s career and brought her opportunities in all kinds of musical genres, it also opened up opera houses across the United States.
Suddenly Showboat and musical theatre was acceptable in numerous opera houses and Cambridge was called upon to reprise the role of Julie a number of times on those stages.
The worlds of jazz, pop, and rock n roll opened up for her after the success of that first Showboat performance. In 2016 she released her second solo album of jazz standards and popular American songs – Until Now. In 2018 she was on Broadway in Rocktopia.
Opera is still Cambridge’s number one job, one in which she now has two decades of success on the world’s leading opera and concert stages and she expresses delight in being able to appear once more in a role which brings her such enjoyment.
“She’s sweet; she’s funny,” says Cambridge of the merry widow, Hanna Glawari. “It’s a fun operetta. I love the costumes. It’s just fun.”
“The Merry Widow is a milestone for Toledo Opera because it is the first comedy to be produced by us since before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Toledo Opera’s Executive Director Suzanne Rorick. “We can’t wait to bring this effervescent and funny story to the Toledo community. In addition to this, The Merry Widow is an operetta, something so rarely performed at Toledo Opera. But this piece also brings with it a team of artists whose talent we’ve utilized time and time again.”
Toledo Opera will perform The Merry Widow at the Valentine Theatre on Friday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, February 12 at 2 p.m. To learn more about The Merry Widow cast and production team and to buy tickets, visit toledoopera.org.