Alumni Spotlight: Stacey Tappan, '91

Stacey Tappan ’91 has performed a multitude of roles, including Griselda in Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella (Opera San Jose, 2017) and Stella at LA Opera’s Streetcar Named Desire (2014).

Stacey Tappan
By Jackie Y.
February 26, 2019

Starting this issue, Alumnae Spotlight will now be a recurrent column that will report on past Westridge graduates and what they have accomplished. The alumnae are asked questions ranging from what their current challenges in life are to what they’ve learned from Westridge; every issue will have a different perspective on an alumna and will focus on what they do now. This first spotlight features Stacey Tappan, ’91, a soprano singer who currently performs at the Metropolitan Opera.

Q: What are you doing currently? Tell me about your job.

A: Currently, I am singing and covering at the Metropolitan Opera, and I’m there for the entire season. I’m working on five shows; the first two I had singing parts in, and the last three are covers. I perform opera and classical music at concerts, and I also teach voice. I’ve substitute taught at DePaul, and I’ve done master classes, which is basically a lesson in public at various colleges and institutions.


Q: Why did you want to become an opera singer?

A: I didn’t set out to become an opera singer. I really liked musical theatre and singing. When I was a senior, the choir teacher, Betsy Hanger, said that I might be able to get a scholarship if I learned classical repertoire to audition with. I learned some classical pieces, auditioned for various schools, and I ended up going to Chapman University on a scholarship. I figured while I was getting a vocal scholarship I might as well major in voice. So, I did, and I discovered that classical repertoire really suited my voice. You sing higher, you sing faster, and you’re training your body so that you can do all these things without it taking a toll on your voice so that you don’t lose your voice later on in life. It’s also fun to see the limits of what you can do and what you’re capable of. It’s really thrilling to pull off an amazing, expressive thing, and in opera, the mood of a piece that you are trying to sing is supported and underlined by what you do vocally and what the music does. You can convey emotions with the ornaments that you sing and the way you phrase something. The audience doesn’t need to understand what the words are in order to feel the emotions you are bringing across. It’s a very immediate and direct effect, and it’s a way of connecting with an audience that’s universal.


Q: Are there any funny/interesting stories that have come out of your career?

A: One of the things that I’ve noticed in that I tend to find significant correlations between the things I’m working on and the stuff that’s going on in my life. When I got married, my husband, immediately after, got called to serve in Iraq. I was worried about him, and coincidentally, all the stuff that I was working on, like The Magic Flute, had me sing things involving saying goodbye to somebody who was going overseas. It was pertinent to what I was going through, and it was kind of like therapy, and by working through it in music and letting yourself feel it, it lets you come to terms with it. On a lighter note, I was playing a nun in Suor Angelica at the Met, and I was coming down with a cold during our first day of staging, so I was feeling kind of out of it. I found this meditative place, and since there was a lot of staging with the lead soprano, all the rest of us nuns were sitting on the sidelines. In another circumstance, I would have been frustrated that so much of my time has been spent waiting, but I stood in a corner and just meditated, and I realized that I had found this character. It’s a lot of fun to discover the things in your own life that are similar in what you are singing.


Q:  Has Westridge affected your career and where you are today?

A: Oh, hugely. I did the independent study with my choir teacher, and that was the thing that got me on the path to begin with. I also had an amazing drama teacher who pulled me out of my shell and helped me be a better performer by giving me the confidence to do it.

I think there’s something about Westridge that as a student, everything is open to you. If you have an interest in it, then you can pursue it with everyone supporting you. I also really learned how to write well at Westridge, and I’ve had comments throughout my life and career about how well I write about my experiences.

I think it being an all-girls school has something to do with the feeling of possibility and potential. It was just a place where you could just be yourself and be whoever you were, who you actually were. That’s something I actually miss in the world. Westridge was a place where those limits didn’t exist.


Q: What is your favorite song or opera to sing?

A: That’s a really hard question to answer. I like songs for all different kinds of reasons. There’s a number of pop songs that mean a lot to me; there’s a number of opera songs that mean a lot to me, and it changes from day to day. There have been a lot of operas that have been a great deal for me to perform.

Little Women, my first professional debut in 2000, was one of them. The opera was about things changing, with the girls growing up, people dying, and others getting married and moving on. In 1999, my parents told me they were splitting up. My family was undergoing a change. And so Little Women was my way with dealing with that. I was playing Beth in the opera as well; she’s the one who dies. She is also [the] one that tells Jo to come to terms with things changing. So my character had to be okay with all the changes going on. She had to accept it, and I had to go through that and find a way to believe it was okay. That death is one of the saddest things in the entire opera. For Beth, it was everything as it should be. She was at peace with it. So I couldn’t let myself be sad—I had to be at peace so other people could feel sad. That meant a lot to me.


Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

A: Believe it or not, my favorite [parts] of my job are the rehearsals. When you’re in a performance and you’re in costume and onstage, you have to stay conscious of where you are onstage and tune into the conductor; you have to monitor all these other things. But in rehearsal, you’re sort of playing pretend. You’re imagining the set around you, you’re imagining your costume, you’re exploring what this character might feel; you’re playing, essentially. I love the process of discovering the characters, figuring out how you interact with your colleagues, and it’s the closest thing to playing pretend, only there’s singing involved, too.


Q: What was your favorite high school play?

A: There were two that were my favorite. I was in Yeomen of the Guard, which was a really beautiful, Gilbert and Sullivan operetta that had some gorgeous music, and I really loved the part I played in that. And I was Lady Larken in Once Upon a Mattress. There was Princess Winifred, who was the goofy one, and then there’s Lade Larken, who was the normal one. She also had terrific music, but she also had some comic things to do, which was lots of fun.


Q:  What advice would you give to students who want to pursue a musical career?

A: If you want to pursue a career in opera or classical voice, it takes a while for your voice to develop and settle down. As an 18-year-old, your voice is still growing and changing, and it doesn’t really settle until your mid-20s to early 30s. It’s not something that you dive into straight out of college. It takes time to learn and time for your voice to develop.

When you’re in undergraduate school studying voice, you learn music history, music theory, and languages. You also learn how to move onstage and how to perform, as well as singing and repertoire, and I encourage people to get some other classes in as well. You can learn about [the] history of the world, science; learn about whatever interests you. Take some general education courses, because the more you know about the world, the more interesting of a performer you’ll be. You’ll have more to draw from, and you’ll find more about yourself as you find out about other things.

I told myself constantly that while I was going through this and dealing with the setbacks—there were some times where I didn’t get into the programs—[I] thought maybe I’m not meant for this thing after all. I told myself, “You can always get a job as a secretary or a receptionist somewhere. But while you have the ability to try to pursue this thing, you should.”

There’s a possibility of failing at everything you do. If you’re going to fail at something, you may as well fail at something you care about. That’s my philosophy, and so far, it’s working for me.