I took a deep breath, trying to look relaxed and confident, but auditions are never easy. I felt alone in the crook of the piano of an almost entirely empty stage, save for the supplied pianist who I had only met seven minutes earlier, briefly describing my cadenzas for the aria I was about to sing, ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. I felt good, I had sung my first aria well. But, even in the best circumstances, auditions always leave one feeling a bit like you are in that dream where you suddenly realise you are naked in public.


‘Thank you, Kathryn. Would you please sing Queen of the Night?’ a friendly, professional, German-accented male voice announced. I blinked and strained to see who was speaking from far back in the nearly empty, dark and cavernous theatre. There must be some mistake. My heart started pounding so loudly in my chest that I could hear it inside my head. ‘I’m sorry,’ I squeaked, ‘maybe you have someone else’s list? Queen isn’t on my rep list.’

‘We know’ the mystery voice replied, casually. ‘Can you sing it anyway? The pianist knows it.’ Did someone just turn up the heat in here? I was suddenly sweating. ‘I’m sorry,’ I apologised again, ‘but, I don’t know it.’ The mystery voice was mildly incredulous: ‘You don’t know it? You are a coloratura soprano and you don’t know the Queen of the Night?’ He sounded… annoyed? Slightly charmed? A bit prodding, as if he was teasing me, or maybe I was teasing him. It was a tone I would become much more accustomed to in the years to come; the smilingly honest and blunt nature of many German colleagues that has become endearing to me, but at the time froze me in my tracks and left me shaking, and barely able to explain myself.

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I shrugged and tried to look cute and apologetic. There was a lot of silence. He finally asked for the second half of Zerbinetta’s aria (it’s very long.) I glanced at the pianist who gave me a look that simultaneously read ‘Better luck next time’ and ‘Strauss? Do I have to?’ (Strauss orchestral piano reductions are infamously onerous.)

As a high school student, I was told I was a mezzo-soprano. When I went to college, my vocal professor, Dr Robert McIver, told me I was probably a soprano. I asked him if there was a way to be a soprano without singing high or fast. (That’s still a favourite anecdote he likes to tell.) I remained a vocal mystery to seasoned veterans for years, and even after I finally adopted the label ‘coloratura soprano’ Marilyn Horne told me to never sing Queen of the Night. (Still to this day I’m unsure if she expressed that because she thought I couldn’t sing it, or if she thought I could sing it (too well). Alas, life is full of unanswered questions, like, did Shakespeare actually write Romeo and Juliet? Please don’t send me hate mail.)

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Back to the audition: You see, I was a newly minted coloratura soprano at the time of that audition for The Opera Foundation competition, a wonderfully supportive organisation that has given many young American singers their start at European opera companies in cities such as Munich, Turin, Madrid, Amsterdam, and in my case, Berlin. I needed a job, but they needed a Queen. People in this business quite often like to credit themselves with discovering singers, but Christoph Seuferle (the mystery voice in the dark theatre) of the Deutsche Oper Berlin quite literally discovered my Queen - something I had yet to even discover for myself. They called me hours later and told me to move to Berlin. I would learn later that I was the only soprano who ‘refused’ to sing Queen of the Night for them. It is a story that has become legend - with several embellishments added for flourish - but what you read here is the hard truth, I promise!

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The rest, as they say, is history. Christoph told all his friends about me, including a VIP friend, Jonathan Friend, casting director of the Metropolitan Opera. Jonathan flew to Berlin to hear me and immediately put me on hold for two seasons at the Met. On June 3rd this past season, I celebrated singing my 50th performance on the Met stage along with tens of thousands of people tuning in for the Met’s Live in HD performance of Die Zauberflöte, the role that I hold the company record for most performances sung. I have sung Queen at over 30 companies all over the world in over 300 performances since my debut at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in November of 2011.

So now what? Don’t worry, I’ll be singing Queen for a while still. It’s always fun and exciting - and did you know it’s only 12.5 minutes on the stage? It affords me lots of time to get other stuff done when I’m not on stage. I learn lots of other roles in my dressing room like Violetta, Juliet, Lucia, all the Hoffmann heroines, Maria Stuarda and a bunch of Handel roles. I’ve nursed both my children in between Queen arias in dressing rooms. Having a two and a four year old surely puts some perspective on being the world’s most notorious evil opera mother.

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I am blessed in so many ways. It started with my dream to perform on the world’s great opera stages. Queen gave me my start on that journey and continues to deliver. I am fulfilled by singing a variety of glorious opera heroines, most notably Lucia di Lammermoor, whom I was singing when I fell in love with my husband, a gorgeous, tall dark’n’handsome tenor named Zach Borichevsky. I know, it’s like a fairy tale, right? (Well, check out my instagram account to get a dose of the not-so-fairytalish tales of what it’s like to travel all over the globe nearly constantly with two young kids in tow.) Being the world’s Queen isn’t easy! You know, most Queens are just Queens of like one country, or a few countries plus some commonwealths - but the whole world? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am incredibly grateful for my life and the people who love and support me through the highs, and especially the lows - because most people just show up for the infamous highs (notes!)

Kathryn Lewek will star as the Queen of the Night in the upcoming The Magic Flute: Concert Performance’ at the Edinburgh International Festival, alongside the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, on Saturday 12 August.