Ask Peggy Kriha Dye about her opera career and the soprano harmonizes her response with the joys of motherhood.
At 33, the Brainerd native has emerged as a marquee-level singing diva, appearing over the past three years with some of North America's most highly regarded opera and orchestral companies.
But all of it plays second fiddle to her role as mother and wife, she said this week in a telephone interview from her suburban New York City home, where she lives with her husband, Matthew, and daughter, Anna, whom they call Annie.
"Motherhood is my major achievement," Kriha Dye said, the happy squeals of 2-year-old Annie competing in the background. "I've decided to do two shows a year now that we have the baby.
"I want to be home with her, to make cookies in the kitchen -- to even have a kitchen," she said with a chuckle. "Two shows will allow me to keep my foot in the business and still allow me to provide what she needs."
The decision represents quite a change for Kriha Dye, who has labored mightily for more than a decade to make it in one of the music industry's toughest genres.
Last year, her quest -- only two years after concluding a long fellowship with the San Francisco Opera Co. -- matured into a series of successful performances with companies in Salt Lake City, Houston, Toronto and Carmel, Calif.
The highlight of her year was her critically acclaimed role as Stella in the operatic adaptation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, directed by none other than Andre Previn himself.
Previn adapted the play for the opera, which premiered a couple of years earlier with the San Francisco Opera, with Kriha Dye assuming the role of Stella in the closing performances.
The three-week run in Pittsburgh was "probably the most significant thing I've ever done on the stage," Kriha Dye said, adding she was invited, with no audition, to join the cast because of her success in the earlier production.
"To be able to work with him (Previn) and with an orchestra that is one of the best in the country" has meant a lot to her career, Kriha Dye said. "It's too soon to tell what it will mean to my future in opera, but there are still many things that could come out of it, particularly with Previn."
Annie, an infant at the time, accompanied her mother to Pittsburgh, as she did when Kriha Dye appeared with the Houston Opera and Toronto's flashy Opera Italia company later in the year. In the previous year, Kriha Dye had performed through her seventh month of pregnancy.
"Last year I did five shows and was on the road for six months with an infant," Kriha Dye said. "It was fun and a good experience but very exhausting. I even did rehearsals with Annie on my shoulder.
"But it was different then because Annie couldn't walk and just went with the flow," she added. "Now she has friends and needs stability," which accounts for her decision to cut back on the number of productions each year.
On Wednesday, however, Kriha Dye bid farewell to Annie and her husband, Matthew -- a minister at a New Jersey parish about 40 minutes outside Manhattan -- as she departed for China, where she will appear with the Shanghai Opera Co.
She will sing a leading role in the production of "La Boheme," marking her first appearance with an Asian company, she said. She'll return to New Jersey in about two weeks to prepare for a Mozart opera with the Tulsa Opera Co. later this year.
Her musical journey began in the early 1990s as a student at the famed Julliard School in New York, where she met her future husband. A 1987 graduate of Brainerd High School, Kriha Dye also holds a music degree from St. Cloud State University (1991).
While a student at Julliard, Kriha Dye successfully auditioned for a summer fellowship with the San Francisco company's Merola Opera Program. She landed a long-running Adler Fellowship with the same opera company in 1996, appearing in several productions from 1996 to 1998.
A San Francisco Chronicle reviewer who attended Kriha Dye's debut performance called it "an enchanting recital plush enough to beguile the ear, flexible enough to traverse the most intricate writing accurately.
"After a few seasons as a promising novice, she has grown into a singer of unmistakable depth and interpretive clarity," the reviewer added.
Kriha Dye tested the waters outside the confines of the San Francisco Opera Co. in 1999, landing a New York agent who quickly developed her career.
The couple moved to White Plains, N.Y., in 2000, then onto a New Jersey suburb of Manhattan a year later, when Matthew, a musician in his own right, found a calling at a Morris County church.
"Moving to New York has been a major plus," said Kriha Dye, whose parents, George Kriha and Carol Bombardier, still live in the Brainerd area. "If I wanted to work around the clock, I could. But I've found the happy ideal right now.
"I still get to perform when I want to and perform at a high level," she added. "It's like taking a fantasy vacation every six months."
And her strategy likely will continue for the foreseeable future: The couple is in the process of adopting a second child, in the early stages of working with an adoption agency in Russia, Kriha Dye said.
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