What do you think of when you picture an opera? Ball gowns, maybe. Black tie. Wealthy patrons who can afford big donations to support the fine arts.
Savannah Scott disagrees.
“There’s a misconception about opera—that it’s elitist or inaccessible,” she explains.
The 33-year-old opera singer and single mother is now in her third year of undergrad in LSU’s opera program—and loving every minute. She’s living proof, she says, the fine arts are for everyone.
Opera is a second career for her—a return to her first love after spending her 20s following a more “practical route.” A seven-year career in marketing brought her from her home state of California to Louisiana. When she auditioned for Opera Louisiane’s community chorus, it was just to see if she could start singing again.
She still remembered the rush of doing musical theater as a child, the revelation of performing in the 19th century opera The Mikato at 16. Scott knew she was born to sing opera.
“Once I discovered my voice,” she says, “there was no question that I had to follow it.”
If you hear her sing today, the power and resonance of her voice makes it clear she’s an artist who’s found exactly the art form that fits her.
After performing with the Opera Louisiane chorus, director Leanne Clement introduced Scott to LSU’s School of Music and its opera program. She knew it’d be tough to balance raising a child and going back to school, but she was ready to follow her voice once more.
And the more she learned about LSU’s opera program, the more sure she was.
“It’s astonishing that we have such a world-class program here in Baton Rouge,” Scott says. “When I was younger I had considered going to school for music back home. There are wonderful universities in California, but none of them have robust opera programs—maybe one or two opera-themed programs per year. At LSU, we do four fully staged operas every single year, which allows both undergrad and grads to get a lot of stage experience.”
The LSU School of Music’s opera program, established in 1931, is one of the oldest collegiate programs in the country, known for turning out internationally renowned singers like Paul Groves and Lisette Oropesa.
It also set Scott up to be recruited by Bel Canto in Italy, a world-renowned opera school in Tuscany, where Scott spent a “life-changing” summer last year studying vocal technique. She’s brought it back to Louisiana, where she’ll be performing in the chorus of Carmen with Opera Louisiane next month.
With graduation looming, Scott has been thinking about the possibility of moving to an East Coast city like New York to seek work as a performer. But ultimately, she says her greatest goal is to start her own opera company like the one that brought her back to the craft.
“I want to use my experience to do what Leanne is doing and keep opera in the community—especially communities that may not have much access to opera,” Scott says. “The best way to change minds is to get the community involved and to keep presenting beautifully done works.”
HEAR HER SING
Savannah Scott performs in Opera Louisiane’s staging of Carmen April 26 at 7:30 p.m. and April 28 at 3 p.m. at Manship Theatre. operalouisiane.com
This article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.