Salem grad playing the opera scene

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One sign of Audrey Luna’s success is that she has a half-million frequent-flier miles. The 1996 North Salem High grad has those miles because she is an accomplished coloratura soprano, the rare breed who can sing the highest notes with agility and drama. That makes her attractive to opera companies across the United States and Europe.

She gives lots of the credit to her public school teachers.

“In Salem, of all places, I had some of the most amazing music and theatrical teachers,” she said recently during a rare stop home in Chicago. “That’s where it all began.”

From Fred Meyer to Metropolitan Opera

Actually, it may have started when Audrey was 3, being pushed in a shopping cart through the northeast Salem Fred Meyer.

The preschooler was belting out “You Are My Sunshine” right on key – unusual for so small a kid – and Elaine Luna, her mom, tried to quiet her.

Now, three decades later, Elaine recalls wryly: “A young woman came up and said, ‘Don’t shush her; she may support you some day.’”

That hasn’t happened yet. But Elaine has listened in awe as Audrey rises through the super-competitive opera world.

During December and January, Audrey is performing the Queen of the Night, the mother from hell in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She’s done the same role recently at Santa Fe Opera, Spoleto Festival USA and New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

In March, she’ll play Chian Ch’ing in “Nixon in China” for Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Then she’ll head to Rome to sing Ariel in “The Tempest” for the Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Also on her 2012 calendar are leading roles (she can’t say which ones) with Festival Opéra de Québec and with the Metropolitan Opera, which will broadcast the performance in HD to theaters around the world.

“I think my voice type is a pretty specific one,” Audrey said recently on a rare break between engagements.

“Nowadays, there is also another factor: With HD performances, people pay attention to your acting,” she said. “You can’t get by with a ‘park and bark,’ where you walk to your place and sing your aria like they used to do. … You have to flesh out a character, be dynamic and interesting on stage. … I feel I bring that to the table.”

Gratitude to Salem

Growing up in Monmouth, Mill City and Salem, Audrey dabbled in violin, flute and piano while waiting for her voice to mature. Once she could join choirs and take private voice lessons, she never looked back.

“I don’t think Audrey would be where she is today without the Salem-Keizer school system,” said her mother, who recently retired from teaching at Harritt Elementary.

“I could only take her so far as a parent. At North Salem High School, teachers there could take her to where she was supposed to be, the state competitions. Her training there was instrumental in helping her become an opera singer.”

The wider Salem community provided challenges, as well. At 13, Audrey played Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” for the Salem School of Performing Arts. She was daughter Hodel in North Salem High’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and Maria in the Pentacle Theatre’s “West Side Story.”

Voice teachers Brian Swingle and Ruth Dobson helped her enter competitions, a key stepping stone for aspiring singers.

At 20, she represented Oregon at the Metropolitan Opera’s regional National Council Auditions.

“I didn’t move on (to national competition), but it opened my mind to the possibility I could actually make a career of this,” Audrey said.

After earning her master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, she was hired by the Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artists Program. That opened the door to a professional freelance career, jetting from one gig to the next.

A busy lifestyle

Now, she and her husband, fellow opera singer Jordan Shanahan, try to visit each other for a few weeks at a time during each other’s engagements. That’s one reason why Audrey has so many frequent flier miles – and why she returned to their Chicago apartment this fall for the first time in two years.

Her publicity photos show a slender, sultry young woman, quite different from many people’s impressions of opera singers. She explains diplomatically, “The characters I normally play are coquettes, romantic parts, ingénues. It’s to my advantage to be thin and petite. … For someone singing the role of Aida, it may be to her advantage to be bigger … We come in all shapes and sizes like everyone else.”

Contrary to another stereotype, she doesn’t keep her throat wrapped in scarves.

“I live a reasonably healthy lifestyle,” she said. “I don’t exercise religiously, I try to get eight hours’ sleep, I eat healthily enough, but what I make sure I do is get a lot of sleep. I keep hydrated. There’s nothing you have to do beyond that.”

She doesn’t get home to Salem much due to her singing schedule, but her mom does travel to hear her sing.

Even a half-million frequent-flier miles don’t guarantee that Audrey will be treated like a diva.

“I get to go in the fast check-in, and I have to say it’s quite nice,” she said. “I don’t get to sit in first class or anything, but I get extra legroom.”

Barbara Curtin or (503) 399-6699 or

What others say:

As Queen of the Night in “Die Zauberflöte” at Cincinnati Opera: “Audrey Luna strode through the Queen’s sky-rocketing music with ease.” – Charles H. Parsons, Opera News, November 2011

As Zerbinetta in “Ariadne auf Naxos” at Tanglewood Opera Festival: “Audrey Luna, in that soubrette role, very nearly did steal the evening. Her vocal athleticism was of a very different sort … nimble and daringly acrobatic. She delivered some of her most altitudinous and treacherous coloratura lying flat on her back.” – James R. Oestreich, New York Times, August 2010

“To Zerbinetta (Audrey Luna), however, fell the most challenging role. She distinguished herself equally with vocal virtuosity, physicality, and comic acting … This was a spectacular tour de force. If you hadn’t been there, you’d not have believed it!” – Eli Newberger, Boston Musical Intelligencer, August 2010

To listen to some of Audrey Luna’s performances and see her upcoming schedule, go to

Caption: Audrey Luna plays the Queen of the Night from “Die Zauberflöte” (“The Magic Flute”) by Mozart. Special to the Statesman Journal

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