Published: June 10, 2020 By

Kristen Gornstein, credit Jessica OsberFor mezzo soprano Kristin Gornstein (MM ’08), studying voice performance at CU Boulder’s College of Music was a time of growth as a singer and actor.

“I came to the College of Music for the opera experience,” says Gornstein (left, credit Jessica Osber), praised as “a fine actress with a deep, spacious sound” (Parterre). “I got some great roles while I was there, singing as a soprano. I covered the really high part in ‘The Rape of Lucretia,’ among several other roles [including ‘Vixen Sharp-Ears’ in Leoš Janáček’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen,’ ‘Maria’ in Leonard Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Kitty Hart’ in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’].

“My experience at CU Boulder was wonderful timing in terms of gaining confidence to audition, knowing that I could carry a stage.”

Indeed, Gornstein is now a frequent performer on the New York opera scene, having appeared as “Lucretia” in Benjamin Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia” (below right, credit David Altman) and “Rosina” in Gioachino Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia” with the Loft Opera, as well as taking on the roles of “Mrs. Slender” in Antonio Salieri’s “Falstaff” with the Dell’Arte Opera, “Dulcinée” in Jules Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” with the Utopia Opera and “Romeo” in Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” with Opera Modo. Her many opera roles further include “Angelina” in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” with the Salt Marsh Opera, and “Paul” in the world premiere of Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Clark’s “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” with the Indianapolis Opera.

Kristen Gornstein and on stage, credit David AltmanAdditionally, Gornstein credits her CU Boulder experience with turning her on to new music. “I learned how it works—meeting and working directly with composers and getting the chance to have some input,” she says. “The College of Music refined my understanding of collaborating with living composers and premiering their works. It’s become a big part of what I do in New York.”

Edgy and imaginative, Gornstein is an associate artist with Heartbeat Opera, appearing as featured soloist in Queens of the Night: Mozart in Space at National Sawdust in Brooklyn and as part of the first fully staged opera pastiche ever performed on Manhattan’s High Line. Previously, she and her husband—violinist Ryan Drickey, also a College of Music alumnus, having earned a master’s degree emphasizing both classical and jazz traditions—spent a year in Stockholm, Sweden, where Drickey was a Fulbright scholar teaching American roots music at the Royal College of Music while learning from Swedish folk masters. Meanwhile, Gornstein attended the Opera College of Stockholm and performed at the Royal Opera, premiering as the mezzo-soprano soloist in Karl Unander-Scharin’s Opera “Mecatronica” and reprising that performance in the Operadagen Rotterdam Festival’s production of “Distant Voices.”

Kristen Gornstein and husband on stage, credit Heartbeat OperaWhen the couple (left, onstage performing at “Collaboret," credit Heartbeat Opera) returned to this side of the Atlantic in 2012, Gornstein credits Opera Music Director Nicholas Carthy for connecting her to a voice teacher to hone her singing and deepen her sense of self as an artist. Specifically, Gornstein’s training includes improvisation study and subsequent performances with OperaWorks founder Ann Baltz, as well as extensive movement and dance training. In 2015, Gornstein was a fellow with the Tanglewood Music Center, where she was featured as soloist in Steven Mackey’s “Madrigal,” Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata BWV 155 and as “Federico García Lorca” in excerpts from Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ainadamar.”

Gornstein was further lauded for her portrayal of “Ramiro” in Mozart’s “La finta giardiniera” in a co-production by On Site Opera and Atlanta Opera, a role she reprised in 2018 at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts. The same year, she made her Carnegie Hall debut, winning third place in the Lyndon Woodside Oratorio Competition.

Today, Gornstein and Drickey are at home in Beacon, a suburb of New York. “It’s a small town—about 10,000 people— that’s hugely artistic,” Gornstein reflects. “I’ve been doing some modern stuff and a lot of earlier music, like the early-Mozart ‘Shepherd King.’”

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, arias from “The Shepherd King” will be recorded for video, available this month (check Gornstein’s Facebook page for updates); she hopes the postponed production of “Il Re Pastore” by the little OPERA theatre of ny (LOTNY) will be successfully rescheduled this fall.

“I’ve worked with LOTNY in the past,” she adds. “Coming back to those relationships time and time again is incredibly rewarding.”

Her advice to new grads, especially in this period of uncertainty? “You’ve soaked up 23 years or so of learning and taking others’ advice. Now, you’re the one in charge. More than ever, think about what you really want to do—and whatever your passion is, there’s a path waiting for you.

 “No one knows what’s happening right now, which can be a wonderful time to ask what you envision for yourself—and then follow or create the path that leads you there.”