Lauren McQuistin is a woman with a big voice, a huge heart, and enormous determination and courage.
While in her undergraduate years at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow, Scotland; unsure of herself and frustrated by the feeling that her voice was not “fitting in,” a member of the faculty suggested that Lauren might want to consider studying in the states because there would be more programs to choose from, and a greater opportunity for unique voices to stand out, rather than to “fit in.” Apparently, this was not the first time he suggested this to a student, but it was the first time anyone carried through with his suggestion.
Lauren (who was named after Lauren Bacall) grew up on a sheep farm in an idyllic setting in Scotland. If you are named after a star from Hollywood’s golden years, it is likely that you will, at an early age, be introduced to the classic movies and iconic stars of the era, and that certainly happened with Lauren. She credits Audrey Hepburn with introducing her to the wonders of liquid eye-liner and inspiring her signature winged eye-line. She also quotes from All About Eve, often.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lauren over lunch, where we discussed what it was like growing up the daughter of sheep farmers, and finding that you have the talent and desire to study and perform opera. It was a world her parents were not familiar with, but they threw their unbridled support to their oldest child, and encouraged her to follow her dreams and ambitions, even if it meant moving to the states to get the kind of training she wanted and felt she needed.
While Lauren considered Julliard, Eastman, and Manhattan School for her Master’s Degree program, she decided on Indiana University because of her desire to study with Carol Vaness. Vaness’ Mozartian performances are considered definitive, and she is also particularly well known for her Tosca. (Pavarotti’s final operatic performance was at the Met with Vaness as Tosca.) And while you might assume that a woman who grew up on a sheep farm would prefer the farmland setting of IU to the more urban environment at Yale, Lauren felt, “It was just too much like home.” While she learned a great deal, her time in Bloomington was difficult for her, and describes her experience as having been “chewed up and spit out.”
“It’s such a big school, full of intense competition. It performs huge, huge operas and runs like a machine. I loved my teacher there, and I got great opportunities, but very much at the detriment of my mental health and wellness.”
Her experience at Yale has been markedly different. Not only is the east coast more to her liking, but in Doris Yarick-Cross, professor and head of the voice and opera department at Yale’s School of Music, Lauren found a champion.
“Doris aggressively believed in me, and taught me how to believe in myself. Self belief is the most important thing I have learned at my time at Yale, and I have Doris to thank for that.”
It is hard to imagine that the woman I saw play Lucrezia Borgia in her first performance at Yale, did not ARRIVE on campus with nerves of steel and unreserved confidence. (see Nov. 9, 2016 article, “Autumn in New Haven)
To learn that she struggled with believing in herself is surprising, considering the power she exuded in her scenes. In the three years she has been here, Lauren has appeared in several other roles, including The First Lady in Die Zauberflöte, and a recent performance as Elizabeth I from another Donizetti Bel Canto biography, Roberto Devereux.
In addition, last spring Lauren sang her beloved Richard Strauss in a sumptuous performance of The Four Last Songs at Woolsey Hall with the Yale Symphony Orchestra. Since Strauss fits so comfortably in her voice, there is little wonder that it is her dream to perform Arabella. She would also love to perform the title role in Berg’s Lulu, and since she has recently developed a newfound respect for Puccini, she would love to have a crack at La Rondine.
Lauren will have the chance to connect with her vulnerable side this February at the Schubert Theatre, when she takes on the role of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s glorious opera Eugene Onegin. She performed the iconic “Letter Scene” from the opera at the season opener at Sprague earlier in November, and when I asked her how much fun she had doing that, she rolled her expressive eyes and stuttered out the words, “The way it feels in my voice, the role, the…oh my God!”
Now in her third and final year at Yale, and as delightful offstage as well as on, Lauren continues to bring her passion, her artistry, and her irresistible quirkiness to the Yale opera scene. This is an artist who has the determination and fortitude to make the harder choices regarding her formal training, and that kind of work ethic goes a long way in the world of professional opera. Combine that ethic with intelligence, talent, guts and passion, and you have a recipe for a brilliant career.
We are a lucky audience to have the opportunity to see performances of students who are transitioning into their professional lives. This goes for all the performance groups at Yale, and it makes College Street a very busy place during the school year. Get out there and see for yourself.
Eugene Onegin will play from February 15-17 at the Schubert. The opera is double cast. I suggest going twice to see the both casts. It’s twice as much fun.