Written by Kelly Kleinsteuber
Nolen made her Metropolitan Opera debut in January, as Waltraute in Wagner's "Die
Walküre," one week before her 31st birthday. Photo © Harry Heleotis 2007.
Breathe deep, she tells herself. Just breathe deep.
Alumna and singer, Laura Vlasak Nolen
warms up her voice, preparing to accomplish one of her biggest goals – singing
at the Metropolitan Opera.
She goes to her makeup and costume call with a million thoughts running through her
mind. Her parents flew all the way to New York to see her debut.
She thinks about the four weeks of rehearsals it took to get to this performance.
She tries to get rid of the butterflies she still gets after five years of being
a professional opera singer.
It’s time for the curtain.
“My debut was a day after my seventh wedding anniversary and a week before my 31st
birthday,” Nolen said. “I had told my manager, ‘I want to sing at the Met and make
my debut when I’m 30.’”
This past January, Nolen made her Met debut as Waltraute in Richard Wagner’s “Die
Walküre.” She has performed in more than 40 operas and professionally debuted in
2003 as Third Lady in “Magic Flute” with the Cleveland Opera.
Destined to be a Diva
The life of a singer is not an easy one. Nolen said the politics, energy and rejection
are just a few of the things a singer has to deal with in addition to auditioning
“You don’t know where it will take you,” Nolen said. “You know you’re good but you
don’t know if you have what it takes to be a singer. You have to believe in yourself
as a singer, as an artist, because without it you can’t go anywhere.”
Nolen took her first voice lessons when she was 14 years old. During high school,
she participated in choirs and was accepted to the Texas All-State Choir.
“My teachers always told me I had an operatic voice,” Nolen said. “But I thought
I wanted to be on Broadway because I loved the costumes and acting that went along
with the singing.”
The Garland native auditioned at Texas Tech University and received a scholarship
to study vocal performance. There, she got her first taste of solo performances and
more experience singing opera.
Karl Dent, voice area chair for the School of Music at Texas Tech who was one of
Nolen’s professors, said he knew right away that Nolen could make a career out of
“Laura has tenacity and a spirit that knows no boundary,” Dent said. “She’s not afraid
to expose herself musically and that’s what makes you successful in this business.”
Dent encouraged her to audition for graduate school at Indiana University. According
to Dent, Indiana is the top school for operatic performance.
“That’s when I realized it was serious,” Nolen said, “that I wasn’t just going to
get a degree in music and that would be it.”
In addition to her appearances with the Met, Nolen also has performed at a variety
of venues, from the New York City Opera to her Alma Mater at Texas Tech. Photo of
Nolen as the Third Lady in The Magic Flute with Dallas Opera. Photo courtesy Laura Nolen.
Seeing the World
Nolen loves the traveling she gets to do with her job, but said it is hard to be
gone for long periods of time. When she apprenticed with the Santa Fe Opera, she
was gone from her husband, Todd, for three months at a time.
She said Todd made it possible to pursue her dream full time and not have to work
a day job. He even took his accounting job with IBM in New York so they could live
close to the opera scene.
When not singing, Nolen loves working on the house she shares with her husband in
upstate New York. A self-proclaimed HGTV and TLC junkie, Nolen loves being in her
garden and riding the tractor across their two and a half acres of land.
If she could change something, Nolen would have been more focused during her undergraduate
studies. She joined a sorority during her sophomore year at Texas Tech and said that
took time away from her studies. Nolen focused more at graduate school because she
had to grow up before she had a career in music.
After more than 17 years of singing, her biggest accomplishment is reaching one of
her career goals and staying focused. Nolen is thankful she has gotten to a place
in her career where she can make a living singing opera and have a manager to book
“Everything I have is because I worked really hard at it and I love doing this,”
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, (806) 742-2136.
School of Music
The School of Music is part of the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
With more than 500 students, the size is ideal for creating larger ensembles as well
as ensuring individual attention with private study.
Faculty includes a performing specialist on all band and orchestral instruments as
well as piano, voice, organ, harp and guitar, and specialists in conducting, composition,
electronic music, music education, musicology, world music and music theory.
Karl Dent is professor of voice and chair of the voice area in the School of Music.
Dent also is active as a solo singer, performing extensively in oratorio, concert
and recital, and has appeared nationally with numerous symphony orchestras. He is
also the winner of three Grammy awards.
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