Caitlin Hammon has always enjoyed singing, but hearing guest vocalist Stella Zambalis sing opera with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera changed her focus.
"The first time I heard a professional opera singer, I was on the first or second row [at the Tivoli Theatre], and it was absolutely astounding to me that a human voice could sound like that," Hammon says.
That was in 2007, and Hammon was a senior at Chattanooga Christian School. She was so inspired by the performance, she signed up to compete in the CSO Guild Youth Competition. Despite having only about a month to prepare, she won the competition.
"I took my first voice lessons, and my voice just went there," she says. "It just worked out for me."
Hammon went on to do well in regional vocal competitions and later attended Lee University, where she was a double major in vocal performance and music education. She is currently living in Montreal, where she is finishing up her master's degree in opera performance from McGill University.
She has begun the process of planning for the next phase of her career, and three weeks ago she was in New York City auditioning. On Sunday, she will be the soprano soloist on Poulenc's "Gloria," joining all of the choirs from Lee University in the Conn Center for the Performing Arts in Cleveland, Tenn., for a 3 p.m. performance.
The following week, Dec. 15-17, she will join the Tennessee Chamber Chorus for performances of "A Ceremony of Carols." That Sunday's performance will take place at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Cleveland. The following night, the concert will take place at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Alcoa, and the final show will be held at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church on Signal Mountain. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m.
Dr. Cameron LaBarr, a music teacher at Lee and director of the Tennessee Chamber Chorus, has worked with Hammon on several productions in the past.
"Caitlin has a pristine, crystal-clear color to her voice that is unique among her peers and other people her age," he says. "That and her work ethic and ability to show up prepared and ready to work will help her in her career."
Hammon is one of about 45 opera students at McGill. She is well aware of the challenges she faces trying to make a living performing opera. The CSO is not the only symphony around the world struggling with how to present operas, which can be very expensive to stage. The reason for that expense is a big part of what Hammon loves about opera.
"It is all of these art forms coming together," she says.
Hammon says she recently worked with the Glimmerglass Festival, an opera company in upstate New York, and spent time with the whole crew, including choreographers and set designers.
"I was talking to the set designers, and a lot of them had stumbled across opera and just fallen in love with it because it is such a bigger scale," she says. "Sadly, that is what is killing it. It does take a larger budget."
She says a current trend among her contemporaries is to stage smaller, almost pop-up type productions of operas, where the audience becomes involved in the show.
"In the early days, people would actually follow the actors around and participate," she says. "It was a lot more interactive with people drinking and talking with the actors and not such sitting and watching. It is coming full circle, and I think it is exciting."
She says some artists are also recording performances solely for YouTube.
"There is a new face of things, with a lot of smaller opera companies with younger opera singers opening these," she says.
She believes that people fall in love with opera once they see and hear it, just as she did.
"I love it," she says.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.