The following feature story appeared in the campus publication MOSAIC in September, 1996.
Elizabeth Lyra Ross '74
An opera singer devoted to her artOf the many opera heroines that Elizabeth Lyra Ross '74 has played, Tosca is her favorite. Her Donna Anna consistently draws very high praise, and critics describe her "strong yet totally rounded voice" as a perfect match for Aida. But "Tosca is an opera singer, devoted to her art, living for art and living for love," and Ross incarnates the role as her own. Perhaps it's the shared sympathies. Since graduating with Trinity's second coeducational class in 1974, Ross has devoted her life to singing, a decision, she says, that grew out of a defining moment at the College.
Leaving her home in Detroit, Ross entered Trinity intent on becoming a physician. Early in her first year she was doing exceptionally well in physics and calculus, but her chemistry grades were cause for concern. Doubling and redoubling her efforts proved to no avail, and Ross was neither surprised nor crushed to learn that she had flunked chem. As many discover, the path to "examined lives that are personally satisfying, civically responsible, and socially useful" (as Trinity's mission statement puts it) leads to a fair number of closed doors and dead ends along the way. Ross switched her major to philosophy and soon came to realize that her lifelong love of music was not simply a sustaining pleasure but perhaps a rush light to follow.
Taking advantage of Trinity's participation in The Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, she enrolled in performance courses at the Hartt School of Music. She also took advantage of a number of opportunities to develop her great talents and share them with the Trinity community by singing with the College's Choir, the Chapel Singers, and the Pipes.
After graduation, Ross joined IBM in Hartford while continuing to study and practice her craft. Her love of music and performing soon came to dominate, however, and in 1976 she enrolled at Indiana University to pursue a master's. In 1978, she says, her voice rich with laughter, she received a phone call from Uncle Sam: the U.S. Army Band and Chorus invited her to be all she could be with them. After surviving "nine weeks of hell in basic training," she soon came to see her venture as "an excellent transition from the academic study of music to performing it." Four years later, she left the Army to pursue her dream full time.
A wondrous singer
Her soprano is lyric spinto, which Ross characterizes as "more like a viola than a violin, not as heavy as a cello." For nearly two decades, it has brought her important roles, travel to far-flung places, and consistently warm accolades. Her arias as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni with the Opera Fort Collins this summer were described as "meltingly beautiful." It is the intensity of her performances that is applauded most often. And this fits well with Ross's preference for an Italian repertoire. "The roles are passionate, larger than life. The plots focus on the elemental plots of human life and love. And even though the themes arise from history, they are universal and have much to say about contemporary life."
Over the years, Ross has returned to sing at Trinity. Professor of Music Gerald Moshell, the Director of the Concert Choir, has accompanied her on some of those occasions. "She is a wondrous singer," he says, "with not only a truly great voice, but also a keen sense of musicality, of drama, and of textual nuance."
Trinity gets some credit for preparing Ross for the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of her career. Her philosophy major trained her "how to be analytical in any situation and look at it from a number of points of view." While this helps in life's inevitable interesting situations, it also helps in exploring what Ross calls the "hidden stuff" of her characters and in leading her to performances that are living embodiments instead of set pieces. She takes special pleasure in crafting her performances to communicate the depths and nuances of her characters, "to make them come alive for the audiences."
Trinity also gets some credit for introducing Ross to her future husband, Dr. John Norman '62, at a conference on minority issues and concerns at the College. With her peripatetic life, Ross finds a solid homelife provides "an anchor and a balance" that make the performer"s life possible.
What lies ahead for Ross? She will help a new opera company in Baltimore celebrate Halloween when she sings excerpts from Gounod's Faust in the company's program of "Devils, Demons, and Divas." Soon afterward, she will appear as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana at Queens College in New York. And spring will find her performing with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.
With unending auditions, callbacks and no callbacks, new roles to learn (and in at least four languages), rehearsal, travel, and practice, practice, practice, the life of an opera singer is, in a word, "unpredictable." Nevertheless, this is the life she has created, and she embraces it with Tosca's devotion: "I love to perform."
-Mark Warren McLaughlin
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