Audrey Stottler remembers the moment she decided to become an opera singer. While studying architecture, chemistry and history as a freshman at Moorhead State, she listened to records in the university's music library.
"During one of those sessions I heard 'La Gioconda' sung by Maria Callas. It got my attention and I thought to myself, I can do that," she laughs. "I was just a kid. So I decided that I would start to study and did. And that was the very beginning."
After her freshman year, Audrey Stottler transferred to Concordia College in Moorhead where she was a member of the Paul J. Christiansen Concert Choir. The same youthful confidence that convinced her she could sing like the legendary Maria Callas took her to New York City after graduation. She had nothing but $500, a few suitcases and a dream of singing at the Metropolitan Opera.
"I had sold my car, sold everything I owned and got enough money to go to New York on a one-way ticket," she remembers. "I arrived at LaGuardia Airport and took a bus to Grand Central Station and drug my suitcases up the street to the Vanderbilt YMCA. I stayed in a four-bedroom for $10 a night and gave myself 15 days to get a job and find a place to live."
Stottler knew at least one person in New York City when she arrived. Her former voice instructor from Concordia College was there; she introduced Stottler to David Adams, who became her teacher for the next 18 years. At a recital Adams organized in the late 80s, she forged one more important connection when she started talking with another of Adams' students.
"He said, 'Who are you? You have to sing for my father,'" she remembers. "I didn't know who he was and I said, 'I will be very happy to meet your father.' I thought maybe he was in a wheelchair around the corner. I said, 'Where is he?' He said, 'He's not here right now, but he'll be in town when he opens 'Parsifal' and he's going to be making a recording down on 34th Street. Maybe I can arrange something for you.' I finally asked, 'Who is your father?' He said, 'Placido Domingo is my father.'"
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The great tenor's son followed through and, after hearing Stottler sing, Placido Domingo was impressed enough to introduce her to his agents.
It would still be another 15 years before Audrey Stottler achieved her dream of singing at the Metropolitan Opera. She made her debut there in the fall of 2002 singing the title role in Puccini's "Turandot." By then, the role was already her signature. She had sung it with the San Francisco Opera, throughout Europe and in China under conductor Zubin Mehta. That performance was part of the documentary film, "The Turandot Project."
Stottler also sang "Turandot" during her only appearance with the Minnesota Opera in November 2000. Minnesota Opera Artistic Director Dale Johnson says Stottler has a stunning voice that is perfect for "Turandot."
"It's 20 minutes of hellish music," Johnson says of the part. "You have to have the right kind of voice to really sing the role very successfully. Obviously Audrey's voice is exactly right for it. She's got a lot of beef in the middle of her voice and then the top is very bright and beautiful. She was just born with the right genes."
Audrey Stottler is very grateful for "Turandot." She says the role built her house and is paying the bills.
But as her voice changes and matures, she's moving from the Italian operas of Puccini and Verdi to a heavier repertory of German operas by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. She's already sung Strauss at the Met and has just released a CD of selections from Wagner operas.
Stottler considers her new CD a calling card, hoping it will help her launch the next phase in her career. At the moment, Stottler is spending time at home in the Twin Cities studying scores and anticipating offers to sing them. She admits she's taking a risk, just as she did when she first left Minnesota for New York City at the age of 21.
"There has to be a transition because the opera world sees you in one light," she explains. "You have to take a gamble. You have to get on another bus with two bags and two boxes. It's continually that if you are an artist."
The new direction of Audrey Stottler's career also includes teaching. She'll be an instructor at the MacPhail Center for the Arts in Minneapolis beginning this fall. Stottler says she wants to make it possible for young opera singers to study in Minnesota after college without having to go to New York.