10/24/2016
Patient with T1D
On Frontline of New and Experimental Classical Music

When she was 17, Elisabeth Halliday decided to be an opera singer. “I’m from a musical family,” said the 32-year-old Berrie Center patient. “I played percussion in high school, and I did a lot of musical theater. That’s what is available for young singers.” But her junior year, Elisabeth started studying with a new teacher, “and I learned,” she added, “to my surprise, that not only was I much better at classical singing, the music was much more meaningful to me. So I said, ‘fantastic. I shall go to school to be an opera singer.’”

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And so she did—at the Peabody Institute and the Johns Hopkins University, a five-year program where she studied opera at Peabody and linguistics and German at Hopkins. But in 2007, on the cusp of graduation, she received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and instead of moving to Germany to become an opera singer, she moved in with her parents in Boston and learned how to have diabetes. Then, she moved to New York, to pursue her career.

Over the last decade, opera has moved well beyond the walls of the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. In fact, opportunities for sopranos like Elisabeth abound through independent opera companies that have thrown the five-hour Wagnerian operas overboard—replacing them with shorter, more contemporary chamber pieces.

“Oh my god there’s so much good music out there,” said Elisabeth. “We don’t have the perspective yet to say what the themes and trends are in contemporary opera. It won’t be for another 20-odd years before we can look back and say that in 2016 everyone was writing this way. From my point of view, people are writing in all ways imaginable. The diversity is incredible. For every piece of new music you don’t like, you can find one that you will. There’s something for everybody. It’s just a matter of time before we see what’s going to stick.

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With four friends from Peabody, (two composers and two singers) Elisabeth started her own commissioning opera ensemble called Rhymes With Opera, which she sings with primarily.  Additionally she sings with such diverse ensembles as Hotel Elefant, Experiments in Opera, NYsoundCircuit, Chelsea Opera, Ashcan Orchestra, New York Opera Alliance, Emerging Voices Project, The Fourth Wall, The Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra and more. Elisabeth has also performed at (le) Poisson Rouge, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, Issue Project Room, Roulette, the National Opera Center, the New Music Gathering, and many other venues and festivals on the front lines of promoting new and experimental classical music.

Elisabeth’s challenges with diabetes have changed over time. “Now that I’m in my early 30s, I wonder about upkeep fatigue and continuing to maintain a good A1C.” Still, Elisabeth says, her challenges onstage are few and far between. “I’m good about having my supplies on me or nearby at all time,” she said, recalling one time she was singing the Morningside Opera in The Beggar’s Opera ensemble, and she watched her blood sugar going down on her continuous glucose monitor. “There I was in full costume and makeup and my blood sugar started plummeting,” she remembered. “So I very casually had to take out my glucose tablets and then eat them in character.”

Elisabeth was featured on the cover of the August 2016 Opera News Magazine as part of an article entitled “Game Changers,” exploring how small chamber opera companies are changing the operatic landscape in New York and beyond. The full article can be found here: http://bit.ly/29Xte1J

“I have been Elisabeth’s doctor for many years, and it’s been exciting to watch her come into her own—and blossom” said the Berrie Center’s Lauren Golden, MD. “She’s a hard worker and a wonderful person, and it’s great to see her achieve success”

Elisabeth lives in Harlem with her wife, a Unitarian Universalist minister.