Sandra Walker

Walker, Sandra

Sandra Walker, UNCG alumna and opera mezzo-soprano, defies the cultural stereotype. In fact, she’s happy to shatter it to smithereens, like Ella Fitzgerald hitting a Memorex high note.“Opera is wonderful,’ Walker says. “I loved dressing up and putting on costumes – and especially getting paid for it – but going to the opera is not my favorite thing to do. I have a teenage son and we’re really into rock and roll right now.’

The first time Walker even heard an opera was when she was in one, as a UNCG music student in the 1960s.

And even after a rich career approaching 30 years, Walker still isn’t beyond a little stage fright. Her knees were knocking as recently as last Wednesday as she prepared to perform as Azucena in the opera “Il Trovatore’ in Augusta, Ga., where she lives.

Being heard is a reciprocal process for Walker, whose career has included performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and on some of the great stages of Europe – the Paris, Frankfurt and Zurich operas, and the Spoleto Festival in Italy.

“So often, performers just come out and sing and they leave. Nobody knows anything about them or what motivates them,’ Walker says. “What I do is talk and sing. I have a Q&A with the audience. It is an intimate situation. I like that.

“It sort of takes you off a pedestal and says, ‘I’m just like you are. I just happen to do this for a living.’ ‘

Having sprung from the North Carolina Sandhills of Sanford, maintaining an earthy touch is important to Walker. A child of the 1960s, she came to UNCG with dreams of being the next Joan Baez. Folk music was her goal.

Never had she considered opera. Not until the professors in UNCG’s music department steered her onto the path. Never had she seen an opera until she was cast in the chorus of a 1960s UNCG production of “Cosi Fan Tutte.’

“I had no idea I’d be an opera singer,’ Walker says. “I went to UNCG the first year that it went coeducational (from an all-women college); so I was immediately corralled into singing tenor in the chorus. We didn’t have that many men. Those we did have, my voice was lower than theirs.’

While still a UNCG student, she made her professional debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. The engagement was the result of having ranked in an auspicious voice competition called the Friday Morning Music Club.

The first-place winner was renowned opera singer Jessye Norman. Walker placed third. One of the judges was also the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, and he invited Walker to perform with his orchestra.

As heady an experience as it was, and as many other competitions as she would win, it took Walker years before she got over her relatively late entry into the operatic milieu.

“I always won in local Metropolitan Opera auditions, and would go on to the regionals and do very well,’ Walker says. “So that gave me a good idea of what I had as a tool. All that I didn’t have was the courage.

“I learned by watching and making observations. I started out doing small roles at the National Opera Company (in Raleigh). I moved on. You just watch and you learn.

“I think it’s really interesting for people – especially students – to know the path my career took. Because they can relate. The message I have is that whomever is the most talented person doesn’t just make it, but that it’s a combination of timing, networking and being at the right place at the right time. Talent is important, but it maybe accounts for 10 percent of success. There are a heck of a lot more talented people than I am who don’t have a career.’

Albums Featuring this Artist