Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.
Ariana Warren, a mezzo-soprano of exceptional talent, embodies everything that the ASU School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts expects from students — excellence, motivation, creativity and innovation. Warren will graduate in December with a Master of Music in opera performance.
Just weeks into her graduate degree program in opera performance, mezzo-soprano Warren was diagnosed with a major vocal injury.
“A few months prior to moving to Arizona to start my first semester of grad school, I began losing strength in my speaking and singing voice, but I assumed it was because I was stressed, working three jobs and had allergy symptoms,” Warren said.
After a visit to the Mayo Clinic, doctors discovered a large pseudocyst on her vocal fold that required surgery and months of vocal therapy and rest.
“Thankfully the surgery was a success and I was able to return to ASU to begin my graduate studies while finishing my vocal therapy,” she said.
Warren had to take a semester-long leave of absence, but she didn’t let that obstacle set her back. She is now one of the strongest singers in ASU’s Music Theatre and Opera program according to faculty in the School of Music.
She has sung numerous roles in mainstage operas at ASU, including Principessa in “Suor Angelica” and Arsamene in “Xerxes.” Warren sang the lead role of Dinah in the Student Lab production of “Trouble in Tahiti” and sang the world premieres of “Behold the Man,” creating the role of Cecilia, and Carmel Dean’s “Well Behaved Women” as Eleanor Roosevelt in the program’s New Works series.
Outside of ASU, Warren won the 2018 Encouragement Award at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Arizona District. In summer 2019, she made her debut in the title role of Carmen at Canto Vocal Programs in Louisville, Kentucky, coached by singers and vocal coaches from the Metropolitan Opera. Recently, she has been selected as a Young Artist at Glimmerglass Opera, one of the top summer opera festivals in the United States, where she will cover Maria in “Sound of Music” and Zerlina in “Don Giovanni,” and be an ArtSmart Mentor, teaching youth chorus members. In addition to her singing successes, she has been the student assistant in the Music Theatre and Opera’s office, planning outreach performances of the operas.
Warren received a dual Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance and music education from Ithaca College in 2016 and was an apprentice artist with Opera Ithaca in their 2016-17 season. She has attended Canto Vocal Programs, Opera Viva! in Verona, Italy, and The Wesley Balk Opera/Music Theater Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Warren has extensive dance training in tap, jazz, contemporary, ballet, lyrical and hip-hop which give her an elegant and commanding presence on stage.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (While you were at ASU or earlier.)
Answer: There wasn’t an “aha” moment for me. I grew up in a household filled with music. My mom is a retired opera singer, both of my parents are music teachers and my brother is a percussionist. We were always encouraged to explore all of our interests growing up but my heart always led me back to music. There was nothing else that sparked the same amount of joy that also gave me a creative outlet to express myself.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: The process of learning and performing ASU’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” drastically changed my perspective of theatre, the arts and humanity. This was the largest performance that I have ever participated in with 300 people on stage — Music Theatre and Opera; ASU Symphony Orchestra; ASU Choral Ensembles; marching, blues and rock and roll bands; the Phoenix Boys Choir; and countless dancers and designers from the Herberger Institute. To perform “Mass” at this grand level at ASU Gammage was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was challenged every day as an artist and had the opportunity to create something unique and special with hundreds of artists.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I first heard of ASU from Brian DeMaris, artistic director of Music Theatre and Opera, who was a professor of mine as an undergraduate student at Ithaca College in New York. He invited me to apply to the ASU Winter Vocal Academy. Throughout that week, I was introduced to many of the wonderful faculty members of Music Theatre and Opera which put ASU at the top of my list for graduate school. In the collegiate music theatre world, MTO is a gem with world class teachers, talented students and one of the most supportive and creative work environments that I have ever been part of.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: My voice teacher, Dr. Stephanie Weiss, was monumental in my ASU experience. She is brilliant in her craft and I have never seen a teacher go so above and beyond for each of her students. She pushed me to be the best I could be every day and she taught me to never settle for less. I learned that there is always room for improvement and if you practice and work hard good things WILL come. Her lessons have been invaluable.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: You must always come first. Nothing else matters if you are not happy and healthy, so do not be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people who want you to succeed and to become the best version of yourself. Be kind to yourself and one another.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The “cove” outside the School of Music building was my favorite place to take a study break, catch up with friends and to review music before a rehearsal. It was the perfect meet up spot and it is practically Grand Central Station for the music community!
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I will be moving back home to New York after graduation. I am very excited that I will be attending The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York this summer. I am very thankful to the MTO and School of Music faculty for giving me the tools necessary to begin an opera career.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would put that money into the arts — half into public education music programs to create and support school music/theatre programs and the other half to small opera companies. Unfortunately school music/theatre programs are losing funding and opera companies are struggling to stay open. I believe that music is exactly what people need. Music teaches empathy and compassion and in many cases, including my own, people find themselves through music.
One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Karl Paulnack:
“If we were in medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at 2 a.m. someone is going to waltz into your emergency room, and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 p.m. someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.”