Not many babies get the quality lullabies that almost-3-year-old Christian Eberhardt and his new brother, arriving next month, will enjoy. But not many babies are born to professionally trained opera singers such as Colleen Daly.
The Columbia resident has performed across North America and Europe, in roles like seductive siren Musetta (Puccini’s “La Boheme”), innocent but plucky Micaela (Bizet’s “Carmen”) and sadder but wiser Countess Almaviva (Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”). Closer to home, Daly has lent her soprano vocals to operas in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, gaining a reputation as a versatile musician who can conquer some of opera’s toughest compositions. On top of it all, she’s working to help other female musicians balance business and family.
Daly’s dive into classical music started when she was a teenager. Now 35, the Frederick native came from a family of jocks — the closest they came to classical music was classic rock. Meanwhile, her grandmother called her “Diva Daly,” and she once broke an arm tripping over her own foot while running backward down the basketball court.
Broadway was her dream until a teacher, noting the quality of her soprano voice, strong higher register and ear for languages, introduced her to opera via composer Giacomo Puccini’s glorious melodies.
It clicked. Daly enrolled in DePaul University’s undergraduate music performance program and interned at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.
While earning a master’s degree from the University of Maryland Opera Studio, she met her now-husband, baritone Terry Eberhardt. Daly went on to the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia before relocating to Columbia in 2009 with Eberhardt, who now heads Howard County Public School’s music department and is a partner in Red Bridge Studios at Savage Mill.
Daly acknowledges that she was reluctant to move out of the big city, but proximity to so many major metro areas and international airports has worked in her favor.
“We ended up convincing several of our friends to move here, and we are thrilled to be able to send our kids to Howard County public schools, while I work steadily in D.C., Northern Virginia, Annapolis, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philly and New York,” says Daly.
Over the years, she’s developed a love for composers ranging from classicist Wolfgang Mozart to contemporary Philip Glass, with special affinity for operas by Giuseppe Verdi. She’s amassed performances with just as much breadth, from “La Traviata” in Verdi’s opera by that name (“The tenor and I were in the zone,” she says) to “Kat’a Kabanova,” a psychological work by 20th-century Czech composer Leos Janacek.
And she’s up for a challenge.
A decade ago, auditioning with the Annapolis Opera Company, Daly sailed through the well-known “Musetta’s Waltz.”
“But we’re auditioning for the Queen of the Night. Can you do it?” Ron Gretz, the company’s long-time conductor and artistic director, recalls asking. (In Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” the Queen’s ornate aria, with its dancing high notes, is considered by some one of opera’s toughest.)
“Of course,” she responded confidently. She did, was hired on the spot for what was her professional operatic debut and has since sung both roles for the company.
“She has it all,” Gretz says, “voice, musicianship, looks. She’s a great colleague and a dream person to work with.”
Sounds like a nice smooth path to success. But it’s not without sacrifice.
Depending on upcoming performances, she spends 30 minutes to four hours on vocalization or three to six hours in rehearsals each day; the rest is filled with networking, working on the computer, teaching, planning concerts for her job at a church, running ordinary errands and spending time with her family.
In spare moments, she’s working with a photographer friend on setting up a group of women in the arts, which could offer desperately needed daycare and arrange seminars and mentorships with businesswomen so artists can understand how to run the business of their careers.
The soprano herself now has a female manager, and “she gets it.”
“I’m tired,” Daly acknowledges, but as a full-time, self-employed, traveling pregnant mother of a 2-year-old, who would not be?
R&R is not the only sacrifice her art involves. She ticks off the negatives: “I’m frequently not present at holidays or major family functions. I’ve taken huge pay cuts to make art. I spend a great deal of my own money preparing for gigs. If I wasn’t married, I wouldn’t have health insurance,” she says. “The job takes its toll on your relationships, bank account, health and sanity. But I’ve tried to envision my life without it, and I simply can’t.”
This September, she’ll be heading to the Boston New Music Festival to sing the lead female role — one which was written for her particular voice — in the premiere of Julian Wachner’s “Rev. 23,” set after the apocalypse. Daly plays Persephone, Greek goddess of spring carried off by (and to) Hades.
“I’m so pleased she’s doing it. Colleen has an incredible lyric voice,” says Wachner, the composer and director of the Washington Chorus at the Kennedy Center, as well as at Trinity Wall Street in New York, who has known Daly since coming to Washington a decade ago.
Recital partner Joy Schreier calls Daly “a singer who sees the piece as a musical whole — piano and voice together as equal partners.”
When not concentrating on musical endeavors, Daly enjoys simple pleasures like watching football with her husband. She also loves theater, film and travel, even as her career has taken her from Europe to western Canada.
For now, her range will be closer to home. In addition to “Carmina Burana” with the Washington Chorus at the Kennedy Center on May 14, she will perform in Dvorak’s “Te Deum” with the Cathedral Choral Society at the National Cathedral on May 21.
After Christian was born, Daly and Eberhardt did a concert together, Daly recalls. Perhaps there’ll be an encore.
And although she can’t yet know what musical genre or medium her little guys will favor, with the genes they carry, someday they may be willing to join in a quartet.