A retired opera star who won international fame during his long career returns to his alma mater in central Iowa today (Thursday) with the goal of further motivating the next generation of singers. Seventy-one-year-old Sherrill Milnes grew up on a family dairy farm in Illinois and won global acclaim as a baritone after getting his B.A. and master’s degrees from Drake University in the 1950s. Milnes says he’s coming back to Des Moines to provide something to budding vocalists: “a route, a glimmer of hope, certainly inspiration to these singers and hopefully, a lot of knowledge.”
He says the popularity of opera continues to grow in the U.S. and around the planet. He says the Opera News, the organ of the Metropolitan Opera, usually featured just one or two pages of U.S. concert dates 40 years ago, but now it’s six or eight pages as the number of opera companies and the number of their performances has “hugely increased.”
Milnes, who has more than 70 recordings on major labels, points to a growing crossover between a host of musical genres and the surge in visibility for opera singers like the Three Tenors, with whom he’s partnered. He says there were many times during performances from Moscow to Berlin to Buenos Aires that he was the only American on-stage and he felt like he was “waving the American flag.”
Milnes says “The United States has overcome some of its cultural inferiority complex. A hundred years ago and maybe even 50 years ago, if it wasn’t European, musically speaking, it wasn’t good. A lot of that has changed.” Now living in Florida and teaching voice at Northwestern University, Milnes says he’s focused on sparking passion for music in others so they can follow the same dream that took him to top opera houses around the world.
His autobiography is called “American Aria: From Farm Boy to Opera Star.” Milnes will conduct a master class for Drake voice students this (Thursday) afternoon and will speak at Drake’s Sheslow Auditorium at 8 P.M.