Melanie Helton is professor of voice (soprano) and director of the MSU Opera Theatre at the Michigan State University College of Music. She has been hailed by The New York Times for her "dark soprano that warms the ear." She made her international debut as Marietta/Marie in Korngold's Die Tote Stadt at the Brisbane (Australia) Biennial. Her successes include the title roles in Lucrezia Borgia at the Caramoor International Music Festival and Aida with Opera Carolina, as well as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with Caramoor, Opera Carolina, and Lake George Opera Festival. Other engagements included Alice Ford opposite the Falstaff of Sherrill Milnes at the New York City Opera, Maddalena in Andréa Chénier, Elsa in Lohengrin, Foreign Princess in Rusalka, and Leonora in Il Trovatore for Seattle Opera, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni for New York City Opera, and the title role in Norma for Teatro de Colon, Bogotà. In addition, she has sung leading roles with the Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Washington Opera, and San Francisco Opera Center. In 2006 she appeared to rave reviews as the Fairy Godmother in Pauline Viardot's Cendrillon with Caramoor.
A favorite of American composers, she worked directly on the creation of the role of Dede with Leonard Bernstein on his only full-length opera, A Quiet Place, and the role of Ariel in Lee Hoiby's The Tempest. She originated the fiendishly difficult role of Venus in Hugo Weisgall's The Gardens of Adonis in its world premiere at Opera Omaha.
Fall 2005 brought the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle "and flowers pick themselves" (commissioned for her by the MSU Sesquicentennial Foundation) with the MSU Symphony Orchestra. She subsequently recorded the cycle plus 14 songs with piano, with the original orchestral team and the composer at the piano. That recording, "and flowers pick themselves," is available on Blue Griffin Recording and was named one of American Record Guide's "Best of 2008."
April 2007 brought her first appearance in the title role of Turandot, also with the MSU Symphony Orchestra. An active concert soloist, she was heard in 2006-07 with the Lansing Symphony in excerpts from Idomeneo and Mozart's C minor Mass and with the Ann Arbor Symphony in Verdi's Requiem and excerpts from La Traviata. She returned to the Ashland Symphony for La Traviata excerpts, as well as recitals in Milwaukee and Lansing. Recently she has been heard in recital in Maurach am Achensee, Austria, as well as in Brahms’ Requiem with the Lansing Symphony and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the Verdi Requiem at MSU.
As a stage director, Helton has helmed the American premiere of Francisco Conti's Don Quixote in Sierra Morena, as well as the world premiere of Donizetti's long-lost French opera, Elisabeth both at the Caramoor Festival under the musical direction of Will Crutchfield. She directed the university premiere of Daniel Catan's Florencia en el Amazonas, with the composer in attendance for the performances as well as only the fifth performance worldwide of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. She made her debut as a librettist with the world premiere at MSU of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, music by William Witham. Her production of The Pirates of Penzance for MSU Opera Theatre recently won first prize in Division III of the National Opera Association’s opera production competition.
The soprano earned a Bachelor of Music degree with honors from Indiana University, and a Master's degree in Music with honors from the University of Houston. Her students have been accepted to graduate programs at Indiana University, New England Conservatory, Peabody Conservatory, Westminster Choir College, University of Michigan, and Rice University, as well as in apprentice programs with the Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Central City Opera and Sarasota Opera. Helton’s students have won prizes in the Metropolitan Opera regional auditions, the Shreveport "Singer of the World" competition, the Connecticut Grand Opera Competition, the Opera Columbus competition, the NATSAA national competition, the Kalamazoo Bach Festival and the Classical Singer competition.
And Flowers Pick Themselves
Video: Opera at MSU (WKAR)
Video: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow": An Original MSU Opera
Video: MSU Sesquicentennial: Song Cycle (WKAR)