Olivia Gregory, of Troy, exudes the barely contained confidence of a stage star who is about to burst into song.
And then she giggles like the teenager she is.
“My grandma had wanted to be a singer. It kind of skipped a generation, because my parents can’t do anything,” said Olivia, a 17-year-old senior at Metro East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville.
Her natural talent and hard work as a singer, including three years with the St. Louis Children’s Choir, have earned her a scholarship with The Bach Society, a group in St. Louis founded in 1941 and dedicated to choral music.
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Olivia says there are different types of soprano voices, but hers is a “dramatic soprano.”
“So every time you hear an opera singer that’s big and full and booming, that’s my voice type,” she said. “I can sing very high, but not crazy super-human like some of the other sopranos.”
Olivia’s dream job is to sing opera, and has an audition at New York University in February. Her mom, Lean, said her daughter already passed a screening audition for the university’s Steinhardt School of Music classical voice and opera studies program. And, she’s been accepted at Webster University, the University of Missouri St. Louis and Oberlin Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College in Ohio.
The decision is still pending, as Olivia waits for auditions that might provide scholarships.
“She could fill a football stadium with her voice, without being miked, that’s what makes her so unusual,” said her voice teacher, Stephanie Owen, of Lebanon.
Perks of the scholarship from The Bach Society includes $500, voice lessons, conducting lessons and sitting in on the rehearsals.
“I don’t know if I’m actually singing with them, but I do get season tickets, so I’ll be there nonetheless,” Olivia said.
The artistic director of the St. Louis Children’s Choir says Olivia has “a beautiful voice.” Barbara Berner has worked with Olivia, one of 16 high school seniors in this year’s choir, for three years.
“I think all of these people who love to sing, if they want to start as vocal performance, they’ll find their niche,” said Berner. “... Olivia has a beautiful voice and she’s going to find exactly her right niche.”
Olivia and the Choir will travel to New York’s Carnegie Hall in June for one concert, she said, and was part of a tour to Oregon last summer.
Challenges of opera
Opera has challenges that other musical forms do not, Olivia said. That includes diction training with Stephanie Owen.
While she won’t need to take foreign languages in college, she does need to know how words are pronounced in Italian, French and Latin.
“There’s a lot of runs, where I go from really high notes to really low notes, with all the notes in between,” she said. “It’s very technically challenging pieces, and challenging languages because you have to learn all the diction as well.”
She currently is working on the song “Vissi D’Arte,” from the opera “Tosca.”
“Every song we have to start at the very beginning — these are new Italian words. You don’t actually pronounce it the way people talk,” said Stephanie, adding that the two of them will work on one song for at least four to six months.
The teen’s favorite songs include the French “Ouvre Tes Yeux Bleus” (Open Thy Blue Eyes), which she calls “a very cheesy, pretty love song.”
But it was “Per la Gloria D'adorarvi” that got her started in middle school. From the opera “Griselda” by Giovanni Battista Bononcini, it is the solo that “kind of started me on this rampage,” she said.
Olivia says there is plenty her voice can’t do.
“My voice type is not made for pop music,” she said. “People always ask, ‘What do you listen to for music; do you just listen to opera? Of course not.”
She likes American folk pop duo Lily & Madeleine, but “it’s something I can never achieve. It’s very soft and pretty and restrained sounds — kind of a nice change from what I’m used to.”
Her big voice does have another place though: It works well with Broadway-style musicals, Olivia said, and she loves the Disney princess movies.
“I really like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’” she said. “It’s an old one, when they still had classical sopranos as the Disney princesses.”
About Olivia Gregory
Parents: Leah and Kelly. Brother Finn, 14. They live in Troy.
School: Senior at Metro East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville.
Favorite class at school: I love band and choir for obvious reasons, but I also love my online college sociology course. If I wasn’t going to pursue music, I would like to be a social worker or counselor.
Favorite food: Dark chocolate she eats with pomegranate seeds.
Favorite restaurant: I'm a huge pizza person, so Lou Malnati's in Chicago or Patzeria Perfect in NYC (however Chicago style pizza will always be the best).
Favorite at-home meal: I love to cook, so probably my mac and cheese or vegetarian-stuffed peppers.
Favorite movie: I love old film noir and suspense movies, like “Psycho,” “Rebecca,” or “The Birds.”
Favorite thing to do with her brother: My brother's a huge Beatles fanatic, so we usually go run errands and listen to their songs on repeat in the car.
Favorite thing to share with kids at school about opera: I love to introduce them to a genre of music they have never thought to try before. It's a different way of singing and acting that has been around forever. Just because it's a genre that's old and prestigious doesn't mean it can’t be fun or beautiful.