For someone who’s about to obtain her master’s degree, mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey has a staggeringly long list of accomplishments. Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions win? Check. Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition first place? Check. Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship? Check. But underneath all the accolades, the Marshfield native is staying focused on her art.
“I’m not good with words as a person,” Hankey, 25, said from her New York apartment via phone. “When I’m up onstage I’m able to pick repertoire that speaks to me, to find aspects of a character in an opera that I relate to that I would normally express in everyday life.”
Hankey’s voice is warm and mellifluous. In one video on YouTube, she spikes it with earthy mischief singing the famous Habañera from “Carmen” with the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra. In another, she imbues it with innocent loneliness singing the Prince’s aria from Massenet’s “Cendrillon” in a Juilliard masterclass with superstar mezzo Joyce DiDonato. “If I were a few years younger, I could be your Cendrillon,” DiDonato sighed as she sidled across the stage to delve into the details with Hankey, visibly impressed.
“Samantha’s warm and generous sound is a direct reflection of her person,” Hankey’s current teacher, soprano Edith Wiens, commented via e-mail. “Her stunning vocalism is a result of her tenacious work habits, she’s always prepared, always a step ahead.”
Massachusetts offered the budding singer ample opportunities to develop before heading to the Juilliard School for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She was a member of the Boston Children’s Chorus for years, took private lessons with the Longy School of Music’s Anna Gabrieli, and attended Walnut Hill School for the Arts, where she studied with Angela Gooch. Hankey said she would “absolutely” recommend education there to “any kid that’s interested in cultivating their creativity.”
To “always be honest and open” was the best advice she’d received from her teachers. “I think that’s so key to being an artist and letting people in,” she said. “Doing something because it speaks to you and you have something to say.”
Hankey’s successes so far suggest a career on the brink of taking off. In particular, the Met National Council Auditions win puts her in a category with such operatic names as Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt, and Jessye Norman, whom Hankey names as the living person with whom she’d most want to do a master class. Now she’s about to take on two classic roles from Rossini: the title role in “La Cenerentola,” a Cinderella adaptation, at San Francisco’s summer Merola Opera Program, and Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” in Norway with Den Norske Opera & Ballett.
As her dream roles, she names Carmen, Octavian in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” and Judith in Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle.” The Annenberg fellowship will give her time to study those and other roles. She also plans to continue studies with Wiens, do a European audition tour, and take language courses in Germany to increase proficiency in a vital operatic language.
“I love the challenge of it,” she said with relish. “I really like that there are things I need to work towards, that I’m constantly pushing myself and taking new risks. The constant growth.”
Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.