On Saturday afternoon, Willisburg native Marty Singleton will perform for a hometown crowd from a stage in New York.
Since 1989, the University of Kentucky graduate has been a member of the Metropolitan Opera's revered chorus. It's a position that has put him elbow to elbow with operatic royalty, put him under the baton of legendary maestros and given him a featured role: Parpignol in La Bohème.
For Saturday's matinee performance of Giacomo Puccini's La Rondine, Singleton has two solo shots, first being mistaken for a rich man by some fawning ladies and then offering his arm to opera princess Angela Gheorghiu. That performance will be seen throughout the United States and Europe because Rondine is one of the features in the Metropolitan Opera's Live HD series. In Lexington, it is being shown at the Regal Hamburg Pavilion 16 and Lexington Green Movies 8.
“What kid doesn't dream of being a movie star?” Singleton wrote in an e-mail. “These opportunities make me feel like I've accomplished another life goal, which is to be in the movies! Of course it's not the same thing, but still, it's special to know that my image and voice will be seen and heard around the world.”
Singleton, 48, started making music before he could talk, plunking out melodies on the piano. The son of former Centre College basketball player and Washington County High School basketball coach Monty Singleton, Marty was expected to go into sports. He did, playing for his father through eighth grade. But music commanded his attention. He started singing solos at church and excelled in the Washington County High School choir under the direction of Donna Royce.
He graduated from high school a year early and had his first year of college at St. Catharine in Springfield, where he did almost no singing but submitted to rigorous piano training.
At the University of Kentucky, he majored in music education, with an emphasis in voice.
“While at UK, I came to expect some pretty high standards,” wrote Singleton, who graduated in 1982.
Those standards served him in his career. Initially, he looked for work in Kentucky, performing in Bardstown's Stephen Foster summer musical and going back to Washington County to teach for two years. But that position had him moving from school to school, and he found it dissatisfying.
Singleton's ticket out came in an audition for the New York-based Gregg Smith Singers. He got a position with the touring group.
“I wasn't a New Yorker yet,” Singleton said in an interview. “We were riding around the country on a bus. It was great and a lot of fun, but I realized I needed to get serious about finding a real job, studying voice and making a living.”
His New York voice teacher, Mary Meyers, helped him “with strategy as much as voice,” Singleton said. “She told me what to wear, how to talk and how to act. That's the reason I got into the auxiliary chorus on my first audition.”
His first opera was a production of Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung. Some of his relatives went to New York from Kentucky to see the nearly five-hour opera for the chorus' brief appearance.
In the ensuing years, Singleton has settled into work at the Met in the chorus and has logged more than 100 performances with a solo part. It has put him in the presence of opera royalty, including Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.
Rondine puts him on stage with Gheorghiu, the opera diva, and her husband, Roberto Alagna. They are opera's version of Brangelina.
“You still find yourself star-struck by the really, really great singers,” Singleton said.
The biggest thrill for Singleton is the HD broadcast and other innovations, including the Met's satellite radio channel and streaming broadcasts online.
“Now I can tell my family or my partner or my friends, ‘Oh, I have a solo tonight on Sirius (satellite radio). Listen to the first act,'” Singleton said.
Singleton, who left Kentucky to pursue a dream of singing for a living, has managed to hook up with an organization that is bringing his performances home.