An Aria in Her Heart

Anna Viemeister combines song and service for results in the Gorge and in Manhattan
By Kathy Ursprung

Opera mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister, who grew up in The Dalles, returned from New York City to perform April 6 at Sunshine Mill.

As a teenager planning to be a band teacher, Anna Viemeister couldn’t have imagined that a key piece of her future would be determined while singing opera at a karaoke sushi bar in New York City.

“You sing for your supper, which is really good sushi,” Anna says.

But the sushi wasn’t the best part of the evening.

“I ended up meeting the founder and artistic director of a nonprofit opera company, a big Bulgarian bass who was working at the Metropolitan Opera until he was hit by a car,” she says.

Valentin Peytchinov founded Vocal Productions in New York City.

“I’ve been working with that company ever since,” Anna says.

Since then, she has played Senta in “The Flying Dutchman,” Nedda in “I Pagliacci” and Princess Eboli in Verdi’s “Don Carlo”—one of the most difficult works in the mezzo-soprano repertoire.

“Eboli was my favorite,” Anna says. “Mozart is sublime, but Verdi is just sumptuous.”

The part was not only a musical challenge but an athletic one as well, Anna says. Originally, the part was double cast, but the other Eboli injured her wrist. Anna took on all of the performances.

“Singing operatically—singing classically—you have to use your entire body to produce sound,” she says. “It’s an acoustic art form. You have two little strips of flesh in your vocal chords. You must use your technique to align your body and be in a healthy state.”

Anna develops her critical core muscles by working with kettlebells and doing deadlifts.

Planning her future while attending The Dalles High School, Anna expected to become a band teacher like her father before her. Paul Viemeister directed the band at the high school until his retirement last year.

“I ended up getting sucked into choir and musical theater,” Anna says.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at Portland State University.

“Then the concrete jungle called,” she says, and she moved to New York.

Anna earned her master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music.

“I had a great college career,” she says. “I ended up starring in three or four shows while I was in the opera program. Then I had the choice to either move back to Oregon or remain in New York. I thought, ‘If you’re going to start something, you may as well start it here.’”

Since her graduation in 2011, Anna has been pursuing her career in New York.

“It is and it isn’t everything I expected,” she says. “New York is nothing like anywhere I’ve ever been. That’s one of the best things about it. There’s no simple way to put it. It’s not easy to live here. That’s kind of why it’s so great because it caused me to get smart fast, grow up fast and learn new skills.”

About two-thirds of Anna’s income is from music. She fills in the rest with office work and other side jobs.

She says performers are good at these kinds of jobs.

“We’re very good at showing up and very good at learning whatever skills we need,” she says.

Her husband, Jeremy Griffin, is an operatic baritone. They make ends meet in New York by sharing their home with two roommates.

The couple met at Portland State and were study buddies throughout their undergraduate careers.

“Fatefully, we had to fall in love in a show,” Anna says.

While Anna earned her master’s in New York, Jeremy earned his at British Columbia University. Afterward, they had the choice of New York or returning to Oregon. It wasn’t an easy choice.

“New York I could leave any time,” Anna says. “When I’m back in The Dalles, I feel the pull to stay and build.”

Anna has begun bringing her talent— and those of her talented friends—back to The Dalles. Last year, she did a Christmas concert at The Dalles Civic Auditorium.

“I’m able to bring certain acts of talent from New York to perform,” she says. “We also have local talent—cowboy poets, the Cascade Singers—come put on a show. We might have some Trans-Siberian Orchestra action this year.”

Anna is raising money for a trip to Bulgaria from June 10 through July 15 alongside Valentin, who will be teaching a five-week master’s course. The trip is an opportunity to audition for European houses, conduct an operatic tour of the Black Sea, sing on an international stage, and help in the development of 15 vocal students.

“Normally, when it comes to trips, I reach into my own personal support, but this is one of those very strategically important trips,” she says. “I need to see if I can up that income number from two-thirds to three-quarters.”

From there, Anna has the opportunity to sing for a master class in Reno, Nevada, taught by Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Delora Zajick.

“When New York came knocking, I answered,” Anna says. “Europe came knocking, and I’m answering. When the people from the Metropolitan come knocking, I feel like I have to answer.”

Anna hopes to develop connections and clout that she can bring back to her communities, both in New York City and The Dalles.

“In my opinion, it’s all based in service,” she says. “Whenever I base my work on service, great things happen.”

Anna Viemeister is raising money for her tour on a GoFundMe page called “Project Opera Globetrotter!”