A year ago, Peggy Kriha Dye sang opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and last spring, she performed at the Lincoln Center in New York.
For most entertainers, the Franklin Arts Center Theatre in Brainerd wouldn't rank with those historic venues. But for Dye, a 1987 Brainerd High School graduate, her Oct. 7 hometown recital to raise funds for the Crossing Arts Alliance is as big as any other show.
"I feel I owe so much to Brainerd," the 38-year-old soprano said in a recent phone interview from her suburban Columbus, Ohio, home, where she lives with husband, Matthew, and children, Annie, 6, and Nicholas, 4. "Anything I can do to help the advancement of arts in Brainerd, I'm more than happy to do that."
Brainerd High School Hall of Famer and professional opera singer Peggy Kriha Dye will perform a hometown recital Oct. 7 at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.
Dye tweaked the program only slightly to fit the audience. She made sure to include an aria by her favorite character, Donna Elvira in Mozart's "Don Giovanni," so Brainerd fans can get a taste of what she does for a living.
"People associate me as an opera singer, so I wanted to put something from an opera in the recital," Dye said. "It's my favorite thing to sing. And then singing with the (BHS A Cappella) Choir is unique. But other than that, I'm thinking of it professionally."
The seeds of Dye's career were planted at BHS.
Under the tutelage of Michael Smith, she learned "to take music seriously. It demands respect and study. I had never considered music to be in that category. Sometimes you think of music and gym as being easy credits."
She earned her music education degree in 1991 from St. Cloud State University. But when a teacher encouraged her to try a summer opera program in New York, her path shifted.
"Instead of returning to St. Cloud for student teaching, I went to New York," she said.
Dye received elite training at the Manhattan School of Music, New York's Julliard School and an opera training program in San Francisco.
If you go
What: Peggy Kriha Dye Hometown Recital with Brainerd High School A Cappella Choir.
When: 3 p.m. Oct. 7.
Where: Franklin Arts Center Theatre, Brainerd.
Tickets: $50 and $30 for reserved seating, $5 discount for students, seniors and Crossing Arts Alliance members. Proceeds benefit Crossing.
Phone: (218) 833-0416.
Then she went professional, and found her life was not much different from that of a film star, except she lives in Ohio instead of Hollywood. Dye has an agent and lands opera roles across the country either through reputation or by auditioning.
But it wouldn't be accurate to say she is living a dream. As a youth, she never even considered opera singing as an option.
"I wanted to do things that were adventurous, but I assumed I'd have a more secure occupation, get married, have kids," Dye said. "As a kid growing up in northern Minnesota you're not around it, so you don't think to dream that kind of a life for yourself."
Dye, who last performed in Brainerd about a decade ago with the Heartland Symphony Orchestra, has earned a bevy of praise since she first took the stage professionally in 1996. A critic in Toronto, where she often performs, wrote that her turn as Pamina in "Die Zauberflote" last year was "a victory in musical artistry."
She's not done learning, though, and she picks up something every time she signs on for a role. As with plays and musicals, operas usually involve about a month of rehearsals followed by a two-week production run.
"The training is constant, because you have coaches for music, dramatic coaches, language coaches, sometimes dialect coaches if you can believe it, then dramatic directors. There are so many people involved. I'm actually a very tiny piece of the puzzle."
Ultimately, though, opera singing is "a solitary occupation," Dye said. On stage, she is the visual and aural center of attention, but she is comfortable with that.
"I don't mind the spotlight," she said. "I'm not intimidated by it. I've had, in my early years, stage fright off and on, but I don't experience it anymore. It's my job, it's what I do. It's become less personal in a way, but not less enjoyable."
Entertainment fans in Brainerd don't get many chances to enjoy opera. Dye offered up a brief description.
"I always describe it as a play set to music, and it's often in a foreign language, but not always," she said. "It's with an orchestra. It requires a certain technique of singing. That's how opera singing differentiates itself - the style and technique. It's just like a play, except you sing all the lines. Nowadays you do need an acting background, and they do teach you that."
Dye doesn't speak any foreign languages fluently, so part of her training for each role is not just learning how to sing the lines, but also understanding what she's singing.
"We're trained in phonetics. Then I look up every word, so if I do a show, I know every word I'm singing."
Not only has Dye learned bits of other languages through opera, but her career also has allowed her to see the world. In 2002, she performed as Musetta in "La Boheme" in Shanghai, China, which had never hosted a western opera.
"They had only heard Chinese opera," Dye said. "That was cool and exciting. But the big deal was to have that western influence in a Communist state. To be a part of that was neat."
Closer to home, Dye had a "magical experience" in her two appearances at the Kennedy Center. In 2004, she performed as Stella in "A Streetcar Named Desire," which was directed by renowned pianist, conductor and film score writer Andre Previn.
"It was quite an experience. The hype doesn't do him justice, in my opinion," Dye said.
This year's highlight came when she played her favorite role, Donna Elvira in "Don Giovanni," while being backed by the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Center.
"I love the music," Dye said. "First of all, it's phenomenal. And the character is wonderful, because she's crazy. You get to have a lot of fun while singing brilliant music."
When Dye performs in China, Washington or New York, people know her as an opera singer. But that's just one of her two lives, and the other is equally important. After the phone interview, Dye went off to greet Annie as she came home on the school bus.
"When I'm not doing a show, I'm very much a mom," Dye said. "In fact, a lot of people around me have no idea I'm an opera singer, or they don't know me as that. When I'm away doing a show, it's just the opposite. I have 'real life' and I have 'opera land,' and I'm fine with that.
"I like to cook, play with my kids, read, decorate the house. Being a suburban housewife - I enjoy it. Then I get on an airplane and go sing."
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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