Everyone has heard of opera singers that have reached their professional level in opera: spending weeks travelling around to perform with various, wonderful opera companies. There is no question that the principals brought in from around the globe to take part in Opera Carolina’s productions provide an incredible contribution to the quality of our performances. But often forgotten in the grander scheme of opera are the chorus members who work tirelessly and unacknowledged to make opera productions successful. Without those oft-thankless members, the stage would be bare and lack the heart and power that makes opera one of the most gut wrenching, visceral mediums. One such chorus member is Xela Pinkerton. Hailing from south Texas, Xela knew in first grade she was destined to become a performer, but it took most of her childhood years to fully commit to what would become her true passion.

Although Xela knew very early on that singing and dressing up in costumes was what she was meant to do, it wasn’t until she was secretly auditioned for Rondalla, a Spanish-sung string ensemble, in 5th grade that she tried her hand at performing. The Rondalla proved to be an interesting experience. Despite speaking Spanish, Xela had never before needed to be able to read in her second language. Her experience having to quickly learn Spanish during her time in Rondalla proved worthwhile as it set her on the polyglot path necessary for opera singers who are required to know Italian, French, German, and even Russian. Along with her impressively fast language skills, her teachers also realized that Xela had natural singing talent and placed her in 2nd chair despite never having performed before.

After a move to Greenville, South Carolina, the summer after her catalyst 5th grade year, Xela briefly parted ways with singing to instead turn to the clarinet as a musical outlet. It wasn’t until high school when she got involved in her school chorus that she devoted herself to singing. She advanced quickly past her peers and took private voice lessons to further develop her talent. Her teachers, impressed with her natural ability, gave her increasingly more difficult songs to learn and perform. Having resolved herself to becoming a professional vocalist at the end of high school, Xela applied to numerous musical schools across the country and was accepted to esteemed programs such as Manhattan School of Music, and Peabody Conservatory. She attended Converse College in Spartanburg, SC not only for undergrad but also as a graduate student in vocal performance.

Opera Carolina came into her life when Opera Xpress, Opera Carolina’s touring opera company intended for children and educational purposes, held auditions for two sopranos for its production of The Magic Flute. That audition in 2012 was the start of Xela’s relationship with Opera Carolina—one that continues to flourish today. From Opera Xpress, Xela transitioned to into the chorus. As with all of her other experiences, Xela didn’t waste time as a wallflower. (In fact, it’s impossible to envision Xela as a wallflower in any situation.) Her first time on stage as part of the Opera Carolina chorus she performed the compramario (supporting) role of the High Priestess in Aida.

Opera Carolina chorus member is only one of the many musical hats Xela wears. She is a choral assistant at Clover High School, mentoring and assisting Clover students. “It is an incredibly rewarding position,” she says, “to watch my tutelage improve my students’ singing and confidence in their abilities.” When not at Clover or Opera Carolina rehearsal, Xela can be found at Myers Park Methodist Church as a section leader. It is evident in talking with Xela that her passion for music and her determination to become better has influenced the decisions she has made in her professional and personal life. Being a chorus member enabled her to not only find a community of like-minded people but it gives her the opportunity to “learn a lot by being part of the progress.” The more she performs and expands her personal repertoire, the more exposure she gets to the important directors and principals that Opera Carolina solicits for productions.

Xela has big plans. While she loves her Opera Carolina family, last summer she was accepted into the competitive and prestigious Martina Arroyo Prelude to Performance, a six-week long intensive training program, where she covered the title role in Madama Butterfly. Xela has designs to one day perform the principal role and not the compramario. While Xela takes opera seriously as evidenced by her ongoing commitment to the Opera Carolina chorus and her other musical activities, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Backstage during Opera Carolina performances aren’t filled with the terse silences of a stressed chorus preparing to take the stage, but lighthearted with spontaneous rap songs echoing in the Green Room. Xela is a big part of the fun and engaging atmosphere that is associated with the chorus and her charisma on stage is evident. You can see Xela at Opera Carolina’s last opera of the 2015/16 season this April where she has roles in both Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Rachmaninov’s Aleko.