Amanda Majeski once auditioned for Carmel High School's prestigious musical program, the Street Scene Student Show in Mundelein.
Gurnee native Amanda Majeski describes Vitellia, her character in the Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," like this: "She's kind of a crazy character. She's kind of evil. There's a lot of anger and crazy gestures flying around the stage in raging moments. You must portray these physical moments while still singing beautifully."
"My mom suggested I try some voice lessons," the Gurnee native said. "Try to train my voice or something for next year. We found a teacher, and she brought out these Italian songs, and it was very confusing. The more I studied with her, I liked singing more and more, and that encouraged me to think I could actually do this."
Yes, she can do this.
Through March 23, Majeski performs in the Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito." She plays Vitellia, the vengeful daughter of a deposed emperor and a woman with a plan to become the next empress.
"It's all so bizarre," Majeski said in a voice filled with unpretentious playfulness. "There is no one musical in my family. I grew up watching the Bulls play, watching the Bears and stuff. My parents loved athletics. My mom played basketball and volleyball. I thought I would go that route, or something like it."
Majeski began her showbiz career at 4 when she took lessons in ballet and tap. Later, during her high school years, Majeski gravitated toward chorus and singing.
She earned her bachelor's degree in vocal performance at Northwestern University, then picked up a graduate degree from Philadelphia's prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, a conservatory that selects its small student body on the basis of talent.
"It was amazing," Majeski said. "Because there are so few students, they pick the operas during the year based on who they have. They tailor everything to fit that group of students. I got tons of performance opportunities and real-life training. I wasn't sitting in a classroom the whole time."
Plus, the Curtis Institute of Music charges no tuition.
"Yeah, my parents were so thrilled," Majeski said.
So, how talented can Majeski be? Let's check what the critics say:
• "Her crystalline voice offers a powerful, almost jugendlich dramatische design, but also capable of warm, lyrical tones ..." -- Friedeon Rosen of Der Neue Merker.
• " ... a rich, resonant soprano." -- Laura Battle of the Financial Times.
• "American lyric soprano Amanda Majeski is rapidly garnering acclaim from audiences and critics alike for her portrayal of some of opera's most famous heroines in both the U.S. and Europe ... a genuine tour-de-force." -- carnegiehall.org.
Majeski admitted her evolution from Gurnee native to international opera star didn't happen overnight.
"It wasn't like I had an 'a-ha!' moment," she said. "As I studied the music, I just fell in love with it. The more I learned, the more I loved.
"As I was working on my voice, I really enjoyed that process of working on things, spending time in the practice room, improving, then getting out there and doing it. It all came gradually and I didn't want to let it go."
Majeski has traveled all over the world, singing in many languages. But she does have a favorite.
"I actually like German a lot," she said. "I spend a good amount of time singing in Germany. I feel like I understand that language the best. It's fun to sing. It has a lot of crazy consonants. You can really dig into the text and meaning behind it."
The soprano meets lots of people from all over the globe. So we had to ask her our standard question: What makes Chicagoans different from other people she meets?
"They're the warmest," she replied. "Everyone is so friendly and open and welcoming and happy! It sets Chicago apart."
In fact, Majeski met her husband, singer Sam Handley, while at the Lyric's Ryan Opera Center here in Chicago.
"I have a great job and get to see great parts of the world I would have never otherwise have seen," she said. "I love what I do."
But surely, there must be some drawbacks to being an opera star. Anything?
"Stage fright," she said. "Yeah, yeah, for sure. Managing the nerves. Doing everything to put them aside to focus on the music."
"Yeah, exercise really helps," she said. "Doing a little exercise every day helps, especially on the day of the performance. Routine helps, too. I really like routine. Like a Jimmy John's sandwich. Having a routine of stuff to do really helps with stage fright."
"They treated me wonderfully in Dresden. I got to sing a lot of performances and I didn't have time to get scared!"
Regardless of where her burgeoning career takes her, her abiding loyalty always will be to the Lyric, the Chicago-based singer said. Earlier this month, she celebrated the first anniversary of her wedding to bass-baritone Sam Handley, a fellow graduate of the Ryan Center.
"It's the best feeling in the world to come home and sing," Majeski said. "It's just so great to have family and friends and a life here in the city, in addition to performing in this incredible theater. It's truly the best of both worlds."