Following a family legacy in the arts, Lawrence native is singing opera in Germany
photo by: Mike Yoder
Sarah Bodle couldn’t just come to Lawrence and spend Christmas with her family; she had to squeeze in a performance.
The 28-year-old opera singer, who lives and studies in Berlin, will give a winter-themed recital at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1263 North 1100 Road. She’ll be singing excerpts from German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” and Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Snow Maiden,” accompanied by Ellen Sommer, a University of Kansas lecturer in piano.
On a recent morning, just before another family gathering, Sarah rushed into a coffee shop on Massachusetts Street, with all the passion of a future diva.
Despite several years in Germany, Bodle calls Lawrence her home. She grew up surrounded by talented people.
“The Bodle family is chockablock full of artists,” Sarah said, laughing. Her aunt, Jane Bodle, has performed in such Broadway hits as “Cats,” “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon.”
“When I saw her perform, I wanted to be up there with her,” Sarah said of watching her aunt on stage in New York City when she was young.
Her father, John Bodle, a local attorney, keeps his band equipment ready in his living room for when his rock band practices. Her mother, Cheryl Wagner, was a dancer with the Kaw Valley Dance Theater.
“There has been a lot of music,” said Lynne Bodle, Sarah’s grandmother.
Another aunt, Lauralyn Bodle, sings and plays the fiddle with the Alferd Packer Memorial String Band. And yet another aunt, Cindy Novelo, is a singer-songwriter.
As for her opera-singing granddaughter, Lynne Bodle said, “She has a gorgeous voice.”
But then she added, “I’m not a musician; I just raised these kids.”
Back in Berlin, Sarah is constantly sending out her resume, hopeful for roles in a city flooded with large and small opera houses. She also continues to stretch her talent with both a voice teacher and a voice coach.
“The voice teacher teaches the ABCs and technique,” Sarah said. “You might sing warm-ups and vowels during an hour lesson, working on small techniques.
“My coach is also a conductor and we work with music. He won’t tell me to change my singing, but that this part needs to be faster. We work on musicality; what did Mozart intend with this line?”
Growing up in Lawrence, she loved performing at the Lawrence Arts Center and in school musicals. In fact, it was her Lawrence High School music teacher, Vanessa Thomas, who asked if she had ever considered singing opera.
“The only thing I knew about opera was fat ladies in Viking hats,” she said. “I wanted to be on Broadway in musicals.”
But Thomas convinced her that opera was beautiful. Then Lynne Bodle began taking her to the Kansas City Lyric Opera, and that’s where she fell in love with the work of Giacomo Puccini.
“Every time I see ‘La Boheme’ I’m sobbing,” Sarah said. “Puccini is a god.”
After graduating from KU, in 2013, with a degree in music and a minor in Italian, she headed off to Lawrence’s sister city, Eutin, Germany, to perform in its opera festival.
“I sang in the chorus,” she said.
Sarah lives in Berlin with her husband, Winston Beck, whom she met at a ballroom dancing competition in Ohio while she was a senior at KU and he was a senior at Iowa State.
“We have always encouraged each other to pursue our dreams,” she said. So they decided to live in Germany so she could pursue opera and he could get an advanced degree in horticulture.
“Germany has free education for everyone,” she said. “Winston pays 200 euros ($228) a semester, and most of that goes to a train or bus pass.”
While Beck got into a program, Sarah was not accepted into a master’s in opera program. So she has opted for the private lessons, which are helping to advance her career.
She is learning the ropes for applying for auditions in various operas as she develops her command of the German language. She keeps busy sending out her curriculum vitae and a tape of her singing, looking for opportunities all over Europe. This past summer, she performed with the Clyde Opera Group in Glasgow, Scotland. She sang Despina in Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.”
She recently had the opportunity to be the assistant manager and assistant director for a performance of “La Boheme,” for Passagio Opera, a small Berlin company. While there are three state opera theaters and many small theaters, an opera will only have about 15 singers in its production.
“We all have bold voices,” she said. It would be too loud in the theater if there were more. So they fill the cast with nonsinging supernumerary actors in the background scenes.
Heading back to Berlin in early January, Sarah will continue chasing her dream. But for now, she can’t quit her day job, teaching English to Chinese students online.
When she is able to pay the bills by singing opera — that’s when Sarah will consider that she’s made it.