When Emily Sheets takes the stage in the Junior Philharmonic Society of New Orleans’ 273rd Spring Recital this Sunday, she will be the third singer in her family to do so in as many generations.
Sheets’ grandfather, the late bass-baritone Norman Treigle who enjoyed a stellar career with New York City Opera and worldwide for over 25 years, sang in the Junior Philharmonic program in 1948 and 1949. His daughter, soprano Phyllis Treigle, followed suit in 1976.
The March 13 concert will be held at Dixon Hall on the campus of Tulane University and features classical ballet, contemporary dance, vocalists, violin and piano solos and a woodwind trio. It is free and open to the public.
Sheets is a senior at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, majoring in voice. Her voice instructor is her mother, Phyllis Treigle, vocal chair and assistant chair of music at NOCCA.
Fully aware of her musical bloodline, the 17-year-old mezzo-soprano acknowledges, “I have some pretty big shoes to fill.” But, she adds, “I’m going to try my best anyway.”
The selections Sheets has chosen for the recital are “Svegliatevi nel core” (Awaken in my heart) from George Friderich Handel’s opera “Giulio Cesare” (Julius Caesar) and “Bucking Bronco” from “Cowboy Songs” by Libby Larsen.
“They’re both pretty exciting pieces,” Sheets said. “I’ve been doing the one from ‘Julius Caesar’ a lot as my first choice piece for college auditions and that’s kind of cool because my grandfather was in that opera. So it’s like I’m coming around full circle.”
Over her years at NOCCA, Sheets has sung in abridged versions of three operas, including the title role in Handel’s “Renaldo.”
Discussing her aspirations to pursue a professional opera career, Sheets explained that the decision was a recent one.
“I didn’t always know that I wanted to sing because my mom and my grandfather did it, so I wasn’t sure classical music was what I wanted to do until I actually started doing it,” she said.
A six-week program at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute during the summer between her sophomore and junior years finally convinced Sheets to pursue a singing career.
“It was such an intensive program that it made me appreciate classical music in a way I’d never really appreciated it before,” she said. “That’s what made me decide that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”
Sheets has been auditioning for nearly a dozen of the most prestigious music colleges in the United States, including New York’s Juilliard School and Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. She graduates from NOCCA in May.
Treigle is certainly the proud mother, but that’s not all.
“It’s just been amazing for me to experience the singing from a different perspective,” she said, “because at this point, I’m both her mother and her voice teacher.
“It’s really been interesting for me to be on the other side of the process and to be her support,” Treigle added. “I was there and listening, but she was the one doing the auditioning. It’s kind of a letting-go process because I don’t have any control over it. It’s all up to her and she’s doing a fabulous job.”
Following in the footsteps of her father, who made his professional debut with New Orleans Opera in 1947, Treigle made her professional debut with the local company 33 years later. She has performed in several New Orleans Opera productions since then, as well as for other U.S. companies, including New York City Opera where her father reigned as one of their biggest stars.
Another one of Treigle’s NOCCA voice students, soprano Lindsay Reynolds, is also in the upcoming Junior Philharmonic Society program.
Founded in the 1940s, the Junior Philharmonic Society’s aim is to showcase talented young people from New Orleans schools in the fields of classical music and dance. Over the years it hosted such future luminaries as Harry Connick Jr. and Branford and Delfeayo Marsalis and opera stars Anthony Laciura and Kirk Redmann.
Students selected for the recital auditioned in January. Five of them will be chosen for monetary rewards, voted on by the JPS board members to help them with their schooling expenses.