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Finding Her Voice

Opera major Zoe Brooks gets rare opportunity in “The Marriage of Figaro”

Zoe Brooks. Photo by Aliya Bashir.


By Andrew Donovan


Taking on a featured role in Purchase’s production of “Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)” is Zoe Brooks, a freshman opera major who transferred from Northwestern.


Brooks is playing a “trouser role,” a theatrical term used to denote a role played by a performer of the opposite sex. (In “Le Nozze Di Figaro,the trouser role of Cherubino is given to women who are mezzo-sopranos.) Brooks got the part, a rarity for first-year students.


The Beat talked with Brooks to learn about her experiences with all things opera. (The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed; a longer version of this interview will run in the print version of The Beat, appearing on campus during the week of May 2.)

The Beat: Growing up, were you attached to opera? If not, how did you find yourself interested in it?

Zoe Brooks: It was kind of a slow process but it’s always been there. My dad was a music education major in college and he studied trumpet and voice, so he was into opera. He’d play it around the house so I grew up with classical music in my ears. I was in choirs when I was younger and experienced something a lot of opera or classical singers do: my choir director came to me and said something along the lines of ‘Ooh, you’re the loud voice in this group, your voice is big you should try to sing opera, try this out!’


The Beat: So, what does a day of practice look like for you?

Brooks: It really depends on if I have a lesson that day. If I have a private lesson, I really try and not sing that much. But the amount of vocalizing I do is probably 40 minutes to an hour by myself,. A lot of my practicing is done without vocalizing though. I read the music and play the notes because to learn the music you don’t actually have to sing through it - I can kind of learn it mentally, so I don’t tire my voice out.


The Beat: Did you do any opera at Northwestern?

Brooks: Yes, but it wasn’t right for me. At bigger schools like that, there’s tons of graduate students—you feel like you’re lost in the sea of people. It was a great school, I was doing opera that wasn’t the kind I wanted to be doing. It sat a little too low in my voice, so I actually ended up dropping that opera. I wasn’t being given the same amount of individual attention that I can get here: The program is smaller and there are only two or three grad students.

The Beat: How’d you feel getting the call that you got the role?

Brooks: I was so excited! Freshmen never really get roles in the opera so I felt really lucky. In opera, you usually have to be older to do a big role like that because your voice needs maturity. You also need to be able to handle learning all the music, so it does feel a little over my head at this point. But I was honored to get an opportunity like this at my age.


“Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)” runs Thursday, April 28-Sunday, May 1, at the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall (Green Theater). Admission is free. Show times: Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.

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