To pursue her dream of being a professional opera singer, Jennifer Trost sold everything she owned — twice.
Taking those chances paid off for Trost, who besides being an opera singer is an associate professor of music at Penn State, where she teaches voice lessons and song- and opera-literature courses. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music education at Albion College and her master’s degree in performance at Michigan State.
While Trost, a soprano for most of her career but now a mezzo-soprano, is retired from being a full-time opera singer, she performs occasionally, including a performance this month of Beethoven’s Slippers during the Palmer Museum of Art’s The Art of Music series February 15. The piece, written by Judith Cloud, was written specifically for Trost and had its world premiere in November at Northern Arizona University.
Because a classical voice doesn’t fully develop until a singer reaches his/her late 20s, Trost worked as a secretary for almost seven years before she was accepted into the DMA program at University of Southern California with emphasis on opera.
While she knew becoming a professional opera singer would be extremely difficult and the opera industry is highly competitive, Trost didn’t let these fear and doubts beat her.
“Too many people run away from their dreams, but I never let go of mine — and I didn’t want to live my life wondering ‘what if.’ So I went for it,” she continues.
At the age of 28, she sold all of her belongings and went to Germany for an audition with nothing but two suitcases and a passport. After attempting for about three months, she wasn’t offered any jobs, so she came back to the United States. At the age of 30, she gave up her day job as a secretary and started to put all her time and energy into opera singing. Two years later, at the age of 32, she again sold everything she had, saved enough money, and went to Germany for an audition. This time, she got the job.
“I’m not an unrealistic person. I gave myself a deadline. If I couldn’t make a living being a full-time opera singer by the age of 32, I intended to give it up and settle down,” she says. “And I made it, at at the last moment of my timetable at the age of 32. That was amazing!”
When she started her career in Germany in 1991, the first thing she bought was a piano. She slept on the floor of her apartment for weeks before she earned enough money to buy her second item, a bed.
She spent four years as a leading soprano with the Wuppertal Opera and nine years as a soprano soloist at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.
“My ancestors were from Germany. It’s nice to spend some years there and experience the culture. It was quite difficult to be fluent in German, though,” she says, because she had studied German in college for only a year.
During her career, she has performed in multiple countries. She sang as a guest artist at the Komische Oper Berlin, the National Theater in Mannheim, the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, Italy, the Palais Garnier in Paris, the Hollywood Bowl, the Casals Festical in Puerto Rico, etc.
Some of her favorite roles include the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo, and Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
With all her success as a singer, it may be hard to believe that Trost started out as a biology major student in college. She initially chose science because there were not many women scientists back then and being a biologist would be considered a stable career for most people.
“But the question was: What do I want to be doing when I am 50 years old? Do I want to be all by myself in some laboratory or do I want to be interacting with people and exploring the extraverted side of my personality,” she says. “My family was really supportive. They came to see me perform many times in Germany. But for a very long time they had huge concerns about my decision.”
Another one of the sacrifices Trost has made while pursuing her passion is that she doesn’t have a family. Being a woman opera singer who travels all the time makes it incredibly hard to have a stable family life.
“But in some ways I consider my students to be my children,” she says, “though I don’t live through them. They are the ones to whom I can pass on my skills and experiences, which is great.”
Her care for her students has been recognized. Last year, she received the 2016 College of Arts and Architecture Award for Excellence in Advising and Mentoring.
“It’s a wonderful life, but full of sacrifices. I guess if I didn’t give up my security as a secretary, I wouldn’t have made it,” she says. “I want to test myself, fill my life with adventures. I had to follow my heart, and, until this day, I have no regrets about my decisions.”
Jennifer Trost performs Beethoven’s Slippers February 15 at the Palmer Museum of Art. She’ll perform with Svetlana Rodionova (piano), Alma Bulibekova (violin), Fabio Saggin (viola), and Mirna Lazic (cello), with Assaf Benraf conducting. For more information, visit palmermuseum.psu.edu.