Cynthia Lawrence

INDUCTED: June 29, 2024

Cynthia Lawrence is one of the most renowned sopranos in recent opera history.

Thanks to stellar performances opposite many of classical music’s greatest vocal stars in locations as distant as Lima, Peru and Martigy, Switzerland. But her talent first bloomed in Boulder, and the influence of Colorado artists on her work is both profound and, at first blush, unexpected.

“I grew up loving and emulating many of the people in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame,” she said, “and I think learning from them has helped my opera career. There’s a lot of John Denver and Judy Collins in what I do.”

Cynthia Lawrence M123 Headshot

Lawrence moved with her family to Boulder at age eight

after her astrogeophysicist father joined the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder circa the 1970s. Even then, she loved to sing, regularly belting out favorite country-western or Broadway tunes to the chagrin of her two younger brothers, who just wanted to watch TV. But she heard plenty of opera around the house, too, and its impact was deeply felt.

Lawrence’s success showing horses in equestrian events put on by the likes of the National Western Stock Show, where she achieved grand champion status one year, prepared her for the competitions that would launch her journey as a professional singer. One such contest led to her landing a scholarship to CU, where she met her husband, fellow opera singer Mark Calkins, and Lawrence studied under Professor Barbara Doscher, a famed instructor whom she credits with sharpening her technique and imbuing her with a seriousness of purpose that paid dividends aplenty.

Musetta Met 2006

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She owes a similar debt of gratitude to the Central City Opera (CCO), a fellow Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee. Lawrence’s time in CCO’s summer outreach program was highlighted by the chance to play the title role in The Ballad of Baby Doe – and her portrayal reduced a special guest, acclaimed diva Beverly Sills, to tears.

In 1984, Lawrence won the esteemed Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and a few years later, she was accepted into the Lyric Opera of Chicago young artist program. The skills she honed at the Lyric led to her next big break: In 1989, she was asked to appear with the legendary Luciano Pavarotti in “Pavarotti Plus” at New York’s Lincoln Center. The showcase was the first of more than seventy onstage pairings with Pavarotti – and the connections didn’t end there. Echoing Pavarotti’s success with The Three Tenors, a supergroup that teamed him with Josè Carreras and Placido Domingo (with whom Lawrence would also vocalize), she joined Kathleen Cassello and Kallen Esperian in an acclaimed trio dubbed The Three Sopranos.

Along the way, Lawrence acted and sang as a principal artist at the Met, the Washington National Opera, the Paris Opera, Prague’s National Theater and other companies numbered among the planet’s finest. She earned plaudits for putting her personal stamp on a slew of the form’s greatest roles, including Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac, Mimi and Musetta in La Boheme, and Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus. But she has a special spot in her heart for Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly and made opera history by becoming the first to make the suicidal jump of Tosca’s title character backwards. Her personal record leap, at the Royal Albert Hall, measured 26 feet.

Cynthia Lawrence M123 Faust 1992

In 2009, Lawrence took a different kind of plunge

accepting a position as professor and endowed voice/opera chair at the University of Kentucky. She soon proved that she was able to teach singing as well as she could do it herself. And why not, since she learned from the best – beginning in Colorado.

By Michael Roberts

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