Soprano Ava Pine talks about her change of careers and the similarities of performance art and medicine
Ava Pine is trading her opera duds for hospital scrubs.
The soprano — one of the most beloved singers to North Texas audiences — will make her final major appearance onstage Saturday night at Bass Hall. She is one of the featured singers in the Fort Worth Opera’s “Grand Opening Night Concert,” which kicks off the company’s 2017 festival.
“It will certainly be my last concert with the opera side of things,” she says. “It is bittersweet for me. I’m very nostalgic these days.”
Pine, 40, is a Texas Christian University alumna who launched her successful singing career in North Texas, most notably with the Fort Worth and Dallas operas and the original instruments ensemble Texas Camerata. She is leaving the opera stage for two reasons: to pursue a career in medicine and to get away from suitcases.
“I am about to start at Columbia University in June,” she says. “I will pursue a master of science in nursing, and ultimately move into a specialization in psychiatric and mental health. Eventually I will be a nurse practitioner in psychiatric and mental health.”
But Pine stresses that she is not putting her vocal cords out to pasture.
I am always going to be an artist, and an artist must make art. It just won’t be the way I make my living.
“I know that I am always going to sing,” she says. “I am always going to be an artist, and an artist must make art. It just won’t be the way I make my living. I know I won’t be able to do long opera contracts like I have been.”
Pine swooped onto the stage — and into the local opera scene — as The Angel in Fort Worth Opera’s regional premiere of “Angels in America” in 2008. The years since have seen her perform with opera companies and ensembles around the world. Audiences, critics and conductors alike have become smitten.
She became a fixture on Fort Worth Opera Festival lineups, returning for critically acclaimed roles in 2010’s “The Elixir of Love,” 2011’s “Julius Caesar,” 2012’s “Lysistrata,” 2013’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” and 2014’s “Silent Night.”
Pine, whose parents both work in healthcare, says her decision to move into the mental health field was highly personal.
“Mental health is something that has touched my life in many direct ways,” she says. “It has impacted people I know and love. It is something I have had trouble with from time to time. And it has such a stigma attached to it.
“I want to be part of the hard work that is being done to eliminate that stigma.”
Pine says that people who work in show business are under special pressures.
“In any situation where your ability to make a living is driven almost entirely by other people’s opinions, it’s hard,” she says. “It can make you doubt yourself in many ways. I have seen so many struggles with that, and experienced so many struggles with that.”
And then there are those darn suitcases.
“I hate packing suitcases. I hate unpacking suitcases. I hate everything about suitcases,” says Pine, who now has an apartment in Manhattan and a house in Fort Worth. “I am not going to miss packing a suitcase every time I go to a job.”
But there are things about the opera stage that Pine will miss.
“I think the memory I will treasure most is the sheer freedom of stepping into a character’s shoes,” she says. “It is such a liberating joy to put on the costumes and become another person, and make choices in their skin.”
For Saturday’s concert, Pine will be stepping into the personae of some opera characters, but not their costumes. She will be performing “operatic fare in the first half, and lighter fare in the second half,” she says.
Among those lighter pieces will be one that is especially dear to Pine.
“I sang ‘Over the Rainbow’ [from “The Wizard of Oz”] for my very first audition, ever,” she says. “I was 8 years old. They cast me as a Munchkin.”
In her new life in the medical profession, she will continue to do what she has always done — give joy, care, comfort, understanding and love to people who need it.
Former FWO general director Darren K. Woods
Failed audition aside, Pine says doing that song will be emotional for her.
“I hope I can keep it together,” she says.
Joining Pine for the concert will be members of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of maestro Joe Illick, other singers from the company and this year’s festival, and featured singer Michael Mayes, who goes way back with Pine.
“We were both members of the Texas All-State Choir in 1994 as high school students,” says Mayes, 40, who grew up in Cut and Shoot.
But that was not the last time they shared a stage. Mayes was part of FWO’s “Lysistrata” cast, and the two have performed together with companies stretching from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Mayes now lives in Colorado.
Yet, despite their frequent collaborations, even Mayes cannot pinpoint the source of the magic that allows Pine to be such a radiant presence on any stage she occupies.
I can promise I will be back and perform something, somewhere, at some point.
“I don’t know,” says the baritone. “Ava and I are friends, so I don’t know her like an audience member. But I know I have really enjoyed seeing her develop her career.”
Mayes says Saturday’s concert will be a “homecoming” for him. He heaps praise on the company and its former general director, Darren K. Woods, who cast both him and Pine before they were well established. Woods is credited with “discovering” Pine when he first heard her sing in the choir practice room of Fort Worth Presbyterian Church in 2001.
“Darren has been instrumental in developing the careers of so many people in this industry,” Mayes says. “There’s no way to overstate the influence that he has had on the operatic world in the past 16 years. Darren put Fort Worth Opera on the international opera map.”
In an interview last fall, Woods, who was fired from the opera in February and now makes his home in upstate New York, told the Star-Telegram, “It has been my greatest joy to be [Pine’s] mentor and friend for 15 years. In her new life in the medical profession, she will continue to do what she has always done — give joy, care, comfort, understanding and love to people who need it. She is one of the most wonderful people I know.”
For Pine’s part, she assures fans that they will hear her again.
“I can promise,” she says, “I will be back and perform something, somewhere, at some point.”
This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Grand Opening Night Concert: 7:30 p.m. Saturday; Bass Hall. $17-$89
Carmen: 7:30 p.m. April 22, 2 p.m. April 30, and 7:30 p.m. May 5; Bass Hall. $17-$195
Cruzar la Cara de la Luna: 7:30 p.m. April 29, and 2 p.m. May 7; Bass Hall. $17-$175
Voir Dire: April 23, 25, 29, 30 and May 2 and 6. All performances are sold out; McDavid Studio at Bass Hall. To be placed on the wait list, call the box office at 817-731-0726.
Frontiers: 8 p.m. May 3 and 4, McDavid Studio at Bass Hall
- Festival packages are $36-$379.
- For more information and tickets, call 817-731-0726 or visit www.fwopera.org.