UCCS may not be known for its opera program, but it has served Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) alumna Maire Therese Carmack well. She is currently in Armenia performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion after being based out of Germany and New York, singing at opera houses around the world and making a name for herself.
“I’m getting paid to be on stage and work with all of these wonderful, wonderful people all the time and I’ve met some of the my best friends through this work,” Carmack said. “You’re around new people, talented people, like-minded people all the time. And now I’m living in Berlin, Germany, which I never in a million years thought I would be doing, singing at a house stage in lead roles before age 30. It’s really, really incredible what this job has given me.”
During her undergraduate at UCCS, Carmack was originally planning a much different career path – hoping to become a lawyer. She and her family moved to Colorado when she was in high school, and she finished high school through a dual enrollment program at UCCS before starting a bachelor’s in philosophy, where she connected with philosophy professor Jeff Scholes.
“I ended up working for him in the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life. He was wonderful and I really loved the philosophy department, so I stayed to get a philosophy degree in part because philosophy majors score higher on the LSATS,” Carmack explained.
While pursuing her bachelor’s, Carmack took a choir class with VAPA instructor Solveig Olsen, who gave her a voice lesson and introduced Carmack to Schubert, kicking off her foray into opera.
“I just fell in love with it,” said Carmack. “I was obsessed, and I decided I wanted to try to do it as a job, not really knowing what I was getting into. Solveig started teaching me voice, and she connected me with some local musicians and Opera Theater of the Rockies. I stayed with the philosophy program, so I got that degree as well, but I added a major in the performing arts. It was a super important transitional period for me.”
Once she decided to focus on opera, Carmack knew she had some catching up to do academically and began applying to music conservatories around the country. Her first choice was Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, known as the “Harvard of conservatories.” She was accepted, graduating with a Master of Music in Voice Performance and Literature in 2018. Following that, Carmack spent the next five years in young artist programs to continue training her voice for opera.
“I hadn’t really been a musician in any real sense until college and that’s quite a late start for singing, as I discovered later,” noted Carmack. “Most of my colleagues started as children, they were in choirs. Training your ears that early is also really helpful, which I didn’t do and is something I’m still kind of paying for. It definitely is unusual to start this late, but I also got extremely lucky. Along the way it was one thing after another where it just kind of worked out, along with a lot of hard work.”
That hard work hasn’t lessened for Carmack, as she auditions every season and has worked various jobs alongside her opera career, which is now taking off after a decade of practice and effort.
“I’ve had other jobs this entire 10 years,” she said. “I’ve worked as a graphic designer and done other little things to make ends meet, because that is what’s necessary.”
Opera keeps Carmack busy, with constant practice and performances alongside keeping up her stamina. At the repertory house she performed in earlier this year, she was usually in two shows at a time and performing four or five times a week or two different shows several days in a row and attending rehearsal twice, sometimes three times, a day.
Some of those recent performances include Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Langaard’s Antikrist, Massenet’s Don Quichotte and more, with several others coming up throughout the year. As Carmack is a mezzo-soprano, which is the middle-to-low voice range, her roles vary from menacing characters, maids and supporting female roles to some titular characters, such as Bizet’s Carmen. To get an idea of what mezzo-soprano sounds like, check out this clip of Carmack performing Ces lettres! from Massenet’s Werther. In the future, Carmack hopes to reprise the role of Carmen and eventually perform as Charlotte, from which this aria is excerpted.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful piece and it’s been my goal for a long time, and it’s just my favorite character ever, so hopefully one day I get to do Charlotte,” Carmack said.
Though Carmack has had significant professional accomplishments, one of her proudest achievements is her partnership with her husband, Winston. Despite having to be long-distance for much of their relationship, they’ve been major supporters of each other throughout her opera and his medical career.
“I feel like my partnership with my husband is my greatest achievement,” Carmack said. “It’s been so foundational to being able to function as a human through this career, even though right now he’s in New York finishing med school, and to have that sort of a partnership where you trust each other that much and still support one another from a distance.”
Fortunately, long-distance ends soon for Carmack and her husband, as she plans to make New York her base in the near future, though she’ll still have plenty of traveling to do for gigs. One such future performance might even take place locally at the Ent Center of the Arts, where Carmack would love to perform a recital.
“Hopefully maybe a year or two down the road, that comes together and I get to come back,” she said.
When not performing or rehearsing, Carmack enjoys reading, cooking, exploring museums and being on the other side of the stage as a spectator of the arts.
“I love taking in live performance, whether it’s indie folk music or or classical performance or the Berlin Philharmonic, which is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s nice to just take in arts and culture as an audience member,” Carmack said.
With so many performances under her belt and more to come, Carmack has come a long way from her first voice lesson and choir class.
“It’s been kind of a winding road, but ultimately, that foundation that was built at UCCS was really crucial. And I don’t think any of this would have happened without it, which is so funny because it’s not an opera program,” Carmack said. “It’s an incredible thing to be a part of. I’m so, so lucky and I hope people who want to do this are given the means to do so. UCCS, it turns out, is a really cool place to start. It has experimental music, but also good foundation in classical training as well. It kind of gives you a taste of everything and then you can go on from there and really specialize, and that’s actually quite unique for music programs. It’s got this great arts building and this theater, and the same wonderful faculty I worked with during my degree. So, why not go there?”
About the UCCS College of Letters, Arts & Sciences
The College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS is the university’s largest college, enrolling nearly 6,000 students across 21 departments and programs. The college offers 19 majors and 53 minors in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Students can also choose from five accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degrees, nine full master’s degrees and three Ph.D. degrees, as well as pre-medical and pre-law programs. The mission of the college is to position graduates for success in their personal and professional lives, with a focus on thinking, creating and communicating — skills vital to employers and graduate and professional schools. Learn more about the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS.