When Cierra Byrd (MM ’20, Voice) was accepted last summer into the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, she had been to the Met only twicein her life.
“The first was with friends and we made it as far as the gift shop,” she says. “The second was February 2020, just before COVID, when I got to see a rehearsal of Porgy and Bess, which was just magical. It was all so new to me, I didn’t even know how to turn on the subtitles. I did throw a little prayer up there to say I wanted to sing in this place one day. So, getting into the program was amazing.”
A mezzo-soprano, Byrd grew up in Akron, Ohio, singing in her church choir, studying music at Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, and encouraged by parents who funded music lessons and events “and drove my younger brother and me all around the city when I’m sure they could have been doing something else,” she says. But what changed her life was the day the Cleveland Opera came to her school to perform Act I of Madama Butterfly. “I was hooked,” she says. “I started telling everyone I was going to be an opera singer.”
Still, she says, she has always been very practical. When she was accepted at Ohio State University, it was as a business major. But she continued to study music, and at the end of her first year was invited to a music department banquet where they surprised her with a four-year scholarship to study voice and opera.
Even after she graduated, she worked for three years in a law firm, determined to save money. She kept studying and singing, and when she eventually started auditioning at music schools, something about Peabody just felt right.
“I knew I could grow there,” she says. “And I can’t stress enough how much Peabody has helped me. All of the technical work with Professors Margaret Baroody and Denyce Graves, the productive criticism, encouraging me to be myself on stage — it got me to a level where I could be considered for something like the Lindemann Program.”
A veteran of two young artist programs (Des Moines Metro Opera in 2020, Opera Saratoga in 2019), Byrd says the work she is doing now is exceptionally challenging. “It feels like two semesters in one,” she says. “But I am learning to get out of my own way. I can’t look at something that’s hard and think, ‘I can’t do this.’ I have to just do it.”
And she is reveling in the chance to collaborate with her talented Lindemann Program colleagues. “They’re each so unique, so dedicated, just people I want to be surrounded by, and I am so grateful to [Met Assistant General Manager] Diane Zola for all the work she is doing with us, checking in constantly and really burning the midnight oil.” And though with COVID-19 their work necessarily incorporates social distancing, they do hope to eventually perform before a live audience.
“Everything’s up in the air right now,” says Byrd, “but, in the meantime, we’re all learning so much, and we are constantly hopeful.”
Joan Katherine Cramer