Melanie Henley Heyn’s self-titled HENLEY HEYN VOL. 1 was born from two important aspirations of her early career: to be seen and to be heard. Raw authenticity and artistic freedom drive this operatic multimedia release, performed by Heyn herself and the Slovak National Opera Orchestra.

Today, Melanie is our featured artist in the “Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about her three musical heroes, and how she returned to music after a brief hiatus working in government… 

Tell us about your first performance.

The first classical performance I remember was a piano recital when I was 10. I was playing Prelude in C by Bach, and there is a section where a harmonic progression repeats to change keys in a downward direction. Well, I got stuck in this pattern and just kept changing keys downward until I gave up and left the stage. It might be why I didn’t become a pianist, although I kept studying and still played my own accompaniment! Incidentally, that was also the year of my first role in an opera, as Amahl in Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti. Two paths diverged, and that has made all the difference.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

I tried that. Some time ago, I had this feeling it wasn’t enough to be a musician, especially in times when we need authentic, maverick leadership. So I ran for office and started a degree in government. At one point not too long after, I had a moment where there was a serious chance I would die of an illness. And all I could think was, “What about the music?” So I came back in for another round. I can be an authentic, maverick singer. It is enough.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be? 

I have three heroes. I did sing with Pete Seeger, just as anyone in any room with him, at any time, did. I would have given my eyeteeth to have made music with Bernstein, so I make do by performing his music and expanding how I see the role of music and musicians in our society. And I would have liked to have heard Paul Robeson. Pretty sure that would have been enough.

What were your first musical experiences?

Singing folk songs and rounds in the car with my mom and my sister: as solid a foundation for harmonic training as any.

How do you prepare for a performance?

I check in a very tiny bit to see if there is clarity in the sound I’m making. Then I walk on stage.

What’s the greatest performance you’ve ever seen, and what made it special? 

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Met in the 90s. My first opera experience where I wasn’t singing! Catherine Malfitano standing/singing over the sprinkler on the astroturf in a floral dress. What??? “Alright, this is definitely what I’m doing now, I thought.” That production remains, with a few possible exceptions, the best I have ever experienced. So, in some ways, a little bit of false advertising… Don’t miss it when it comes back around! Oh, and pop-wise, David Byrne’s American Utopia.

Where and when are you at your most creative? 

Onstage. There is the possibility that all faculties will wake up and be there for use, especially when I am playing a specific character. It is rare, but when it comes, all you can do is ride the wave and touch the stage in gratitude, after.

  • Melanie Henley Heyn

    Roaring onto the operatic stage in recent seasons, Melanie Henley Heyn made her Straussian and Wagnerian debuts as Salome & Brünnhilde, followed closely by a harrowing portrayal of Magda Sorel in Gian Carlo Menotti’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, The Consul.

    Singing a vast repertoire of music spanning the opera, concert, and folk worlds, her 33 divas recording project combining classic Wagner, Verdi, and Puccini roles with modern American opera heroines remains the No. 1 Most Funded Kickstarter for a Solo Classical Artist.