Saturday, March 08, 2014 1:53 AM
Courtesy photo by Adrienne Webster. Attorney Chinwe Enu returned to school to become an opera singer. She performs her graduation recital Feb. 5 at St. Luke's Parish in Bladensburg.
Published on: Wednesday, January 26, 2011
By Daniel Engelberg
Chinwe Enu has the energy and enthusiasm expected of an opera student. Her arms swing into her words and her head eagerly nods as she recounts the narrative of her life. She occasionally sings a few lines of verse while recounting a story.
Few would imagine her circuitous route to the arts; once considering medicine and later earning her law degree before finally pursuing her love of opera. At 32, Enu is Maryland’s freshest initiate into professional opera.
At 7 p.m. Feb. 5, the soprano in voice and Nigerian by birth, will perform her University of Maryland graduation recital, “How Can I keep From Singing” at St. Luke’s Parish in Bladensburg.
The name of her performance derives from a hymn by Robert Lowry. Coming full circle from one career to another, Enu can’t imagine anything preventing her from singing the joy she feels.
Enu’s story begins in Lagos, Nigeria, where her father, an organist and assistant choir master at his high school, played jazz and classical music in the house. Enu preferred lip-syncing to Madonna and Billy Ocean and singing.
“I would sing all the time, really loudly, and pretty badly I’m sure,” Enu said.
The young artist never encountered opera until, at age 15, she immigrated to the United States and attended Phillips Exeter Academy. Her voice teacher, Mary Ann Valaitas, recognizing a natural talent, suggested she take up opera and attend the Tanglewood Young Artists Program.
“That’s where officially I got bitten by the bug,” she said.
Enu knew even then that she wanted to be an opera singer, but parental expectations led her down a different path. She attended Vassar College to study pre-med and continued singing, but dropped the pre-med studies when the balance proved too much. Eventually, she graduated Vassar with a Bachelor of Arts in science, technology, and society and, again with prompting from the family, subsequently earned her law degree at Georgetown University.
Even before changing career paths, Enu continued to sing. At Georgetown, while other law students did law-related extracurricular activities, she joined the Gilbert and Sullivan society, singing in operettas and musicals. She found voice teacher Charles Williams and later traveled to Austria for voice lessons.
Pursuing law made Enu increasingly unhappy.
“That whole period I was sad; I had been doing a lot of crying in the bathroom,” she remembered.
Her life changed with a single song in 2005. The piece was “Ebben Ne Andro Lontana” from the opera “La Wally” by Alfedo Catalani as sung by Renée Fleming. As soon as the first note hit, she knew she had to return to opera. She didn’t know it at the time, but the song’s lyrics speak of a girl who uneasily leaves the house of her mother because her father does not approve of the man she loves. Enu stepped away from her family to her love, opera.
“Once I started walking the path ... a lot of stuff started falling into place with me in a way that it never happened with the law,” Enu said.
Opera even took Enu back to Nigeria, where she got the star treatment. She also credits the trip with making a believer out of her mother. Now her parents are her biggest fans. She afforded her opera education only with the help of family, friends and even the strangers who attended her recitals.
She also found her perfect voice teacher, Carmen Baltrop,
at the University of Maryland,
one of the few schools in her price range.
Moving forward, she plans on auditioning for young artists programs and regional opera houses. Because of what she describes as a ‘non-traditional’ path, she is eager go to auditions and start hearing feedback but does not expect to do graduate studies.
The upcoming recital will express the sorrows and the joys Enu went through on her path. The performance will begin with Haydn’s “With Verdure Clad” celebrating creation just as Enu celebrates her new beginning. Contrasting the Haydn piece, Enu will sing “L’absence” to symbolize the despair and sadness she felt pursuing law instead of voice. She also promises a piece for her mother but doesn’t want to give it away before the performance.
“Its not about me anymore. It’s not even about me having a career. It’s about me sharing this gift,” Enu said.
“How Can I keep From Singing” is free to the public. Enu will be accompanied by Harmony Yang on Piano.
Posted By: Adwoa On: 2/4/2011
Title: Perseverance Pays Off
Chichi is a success story. She set her goal and worked hard and sacrificed to achieve them. Truly inspiring and an incredible talent!! Knock 'em dead, girl.
Posted By: Kate Bradford On: 2/3/2011
Title: What an inspiring story!
I applaud Chinwe Enu's courage to follow her dream instead of setlling for a life that didn't serve her. Thanks for publishing a wonderful story of inspiration. Reading about Ms. Enu's journey encourages us all to find the passion in our own.
Posted By: Terri On: 2/1/2011
Great article! Who knew. Congratulations for pursuing your dreams lady!
Posted By: Agatha Ibeazor On: 2/1/2011
Title: I Share your Dream
My is Agatha Ibeazor, I'm a friend of yours on facebook but know as Agatha France. I also want to be an Opera singer and would do anything to fulfill this dream, but my major challenge is FUNDS and it has stopped me form getting my dreams. It is sad that Nigerians don't believe that singing is a profession that is the reason people I invited for my maiden concert to raise money for my studying in the State University of New York (SAVE THE DREAM) refuse to show up.
With testimony like yours yours I will keep working till I achevie my dream. thank you so much for sharing this.
You can watch me on youtube on this wed page http://www.youtube.com/user/IbeazorAgatha?feature=mhsn
Posted By: Victoria Brown On: 1/28/2011
Chinwe, why did I never hear your voice at Vassar? Good luck!