Boyer graduate student takes final bow
Tatyana Rashkovsky (left, as Blance de la Force) and Sharon Rose Derstine (as Madame Lidoine) star in Temple Opera Theater’s production of Dialogues of the Carmelites.
Sharon Rose Derstine, a master of music in opera performance candidate, didn’t start out in the drama of the operatic spotlight.
“I’m Pennsylvania Dutch, which is about as far away from the operatic stage as you can get,” said the Boyer College of Music and Dance student.
“I always wanted to be a doctor when I grew up,” she said. “Even though I always sang as a kid, I never really considered it as something to do professionally — it was risky, and it certainly wasn’t practical. Honestly, it just wasn’t in my world that someone would become a professional opera singer.”
At 20 years old — still unsure where her future was headed — Derstine was singing in a community choir in rural Bucks County when her life took a turn worthy of a Cinderella story.
“Nobody ever told me to stop singing, but they never complimented me either,” Derstine recalled. “One day my choir director said to me, ‘You have a good voice; you should take lessons.’ And I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ So, I started taking lessons. Then my teacher said, ‘You should go to school for voice performance.’ And again I said, ‘Oh, OK.’”
That simple, unassuming beginning led Derstine to Pittsburgh, where she auditioned at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music and was accepted into the voice performance program. It was there, while she was working toward her bachelor of fine arts, that Derstine says she discovered her love of opera. But, like most of her story, it didn’t happen immediately.
“It was kind of gradual for me with opera because I didn’t grow up with any of that in my background,” she said. “At first, I kind of went to see the opera in Pittsburgh out of a sense of duty. And actually I started very late; I was already 21 years old. I wouldn’t say I heard one special performance and that was it. Opera sort of grew on me. It was an acquired taste.”
Derstine might not have fallen in love with opera immediately, but the stage certainly loved her the moment she stepped into the spotlight.
In the operatic world, Derstine is known as a dramatic soprano — a singer whose voice is marked by power and expressiveness. It is the type of vocal range that is especially in demand in Europe, which is where Derstine found herself after graduation and some additional training programs. The young soprano performed professionally on stage in Germany, Spain and Italy — though the practical side of her always made sure to keep a day job as well, just in case her dream didn’t work out.
Derstine made the difficult decision to leave the international stage after four years to take some time off and raise her daughter, Cory. It was during that time, while studying privately in Philadelphia with voice teacher Carlos Serrano, a lecturer in voice at the Boyer College, that Derstine enrolled to pursue her master of music at Temple.
After spending the better part of the past three years in Boyer’s highly competitive opera program, Derstine is preparing to make her final appearance on the Temple Opera Theater stage in Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites on Friday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 21.
Derstine will command the role of Madame Lidoine, a role originally written for famous French singer Regine Crespin.
“The role Sharon is playing requires a substantially sized voice, capable of delivering authority without strain so that it can also at times be compassionate,” said John Douglas, an associate professor of voice and opera at Boyer who also serves as musical director of Temple Opera Theater.
“I am lucky to have Sharon — who is preparing to assault the German repertoire by storm — as part of our impressive cast,” Douglas added. “She is also an incredible trouper, not one to shy away from painting, hammering nails or getting her hands dirty. She will be deeply missed.”
With five Temple Opera Theater productions to her credit, Derstine admitted that her last curtain call will be bittersweet. Still, she is looking forward to professional auditions and future roles — whether they are on stage in the States or again abroad — because, she says, with a little help along the way, she knows she has found her mark on the operatic stage.
“It feels like I am just doing what I am meant to do. I don’t feel like someone special when I’m up there on stage,” Derstine said. “I just feel like I’m doing my job and that’s what I’m meant to do. And I try to bring to the characters that I’m singing and to the music, something that will touch people, and something they can take home with them. I really feel that that is my job.”
Conducted by John Douglas, associate professor of voice and opera and musical director of Temple Opera Theater; under the direction of guest artist Laura Johnson; and produced by James Johnson of Temple Opera Theater, Dialogues of the Carmelites opens on Friday, Nov. 19.
- By Gina Carson