Artist Interview: Erin Morley

By Erik Petersons on March 1, 2019
Erin Morley
Erin Morley

Erin Morley makes her debut with the Chamber Music Society this month, bringing her “silken clarity…. and needlepoint precision” to a program of love songs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In our interview, she describes the journey she’ll embark upon with our audience and her favorite experience while on the road.

Erik Petersons: Your program with PCMS on March 31 is quite varied, with songs by Schubert, Strauss, Rachmaninov, Grieg, Rodrigo, and Barber, among others. Are there any connections between the works? What are you most excited about singing?

Erin Morley: The program is organized by groups of songs that represent different aspects of love, six to be exact, and they are meant to tell a sample story of one's journey of love throughout life. I tried to group songs that flow together despite their differences in style/language/composer. I start with Schubert's "Delphine," which for me represents the first adolescent flutterings of love, or love's beginnings. We move from there to three songs about "romantic or sensual love", then four songs about motherly love.

The second half starts with three songs of unrequited love or betrayal, then three songs of grief or love lost, and finally five songs of "holy love". This is certainly a program that requires something of the listener in order to follow the connection between songs and sets, but my feeling is that the transitions make sense and, in some cases, the songs seem to belong together. For instance, the set about grief consists of Poulenc, Grieg, and Schubert. Not an obvious trio. But each song describes a different stage of grief, and so the songs seems to flow one to the next. My feeling when I sing this program is that language and style become almost obsolete—it is truly all about the meaning of each song and the piece of the story it tells.

EP: Tell me about your history with Ken Noda. How long have you known each other, and what is it like working with him?

EM: Ken and I started working together when I joined the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (LYADP) in 2007. He has coached me in all my biggest operatic roles, but also in so much song repertoire. One aspect of the LYADP that I really appreciate is that we give a recital each year. We don't neglect song repertoire just because we're busy with operatic role study. Working with Ken is a gift. We always begin by discussing how the song speaks to us personally. He respects me as a professional artist just as I respect him, and our style of working together is always to let the music happen, let the message speak, not to force anything, never do it exactly the same twice... the music is very much alive with Ken as my partner.

EP: Ken has been quoted as saying “Erin’s artistry is so completely inseparable from her humanity…I believe that’s where the greatness of her artistry comes from.” What do you draw inspiration from when you make music?

EM: In this program, certainly stories from past and current relationships, the wild ride of motherhood and career, my own disappointments and personal losses, my connection to my faith... I can only draw from my own life experience, nobody else's!

EP: What opera roles are you singing this season? What are the unique characteristics and expressive potential when comparing art song and opera?

EM: This season I sing Pamina (Magic Flute), Woodbird (Siegfried), and Constance (Dialogues of the Carmelites). There is something special about each role, but I feel very connected to the role of Constance. When I first sang this role at the Met, it was a turning point for me professionally and personally. Before this moment, I often felt that I led two different lives, my professional life and my private life... and this role brought the two into harmony for me. Hard to explain, but this opera helped me to feel more purpose and meaning in my work and also helped me to find a way to feel comfortable being one whole person, all the time, without apology.

In terms of comparing opera to art song, I love the intimacy of a recital. Communication feels very direct, and the collaboration with a pianist seems to offer so many possibilities. There is the added benefit that in recital, especially with a sensitive pianist like Ken, I don't have to think for one moment about balance—and that is of more concern when I'm in a big opera house like the Met.

EP: I understand that your family has joined you many times when you have had to travel. What are some of your favorite experiences that you’ve been able to share with them while on the road?

EM: It has been a great blessing to me to share my work with my family. I love sharing the music with them, opening up this world to my children, teaching them that there is such beauty in the world, that music can teach them important lessons and touch their souls. My two daughters have been to several different countries with me, and I love that they are being exposed to different cultures and languages. This is expanding their worldview, it's the best education I could give them. I hope to continue this tradition with my son who was born this past November!

I was so tickled this past season when my oldest daughter came to see me sing Olympia at the Met and Zerbinetta at the Vienna State Opera—she is finally old enough to attend these shows and see me in action, and remember it. I have always wanted my children to understand what their mother does and why it means so much to her. She wrote a school essay about her experience at the Met opera house, being swept away with the beauty of the opera house and the music and the costumes and lights... It is an absolute treasure to me. I have also been very touched with how kind people are to me and my family when we're on the road, only living somewhere for six weeks or so; we have made lifelong family friends when we travel together.

Erin Morley performs with pianist Ken Noda on Sunday, March 31, at 3:00 pm at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. For tickets and information, visit the concert page. For more information about Erin Morley, visit her website.