When parents talk to me about Lori Turner and the work she does with the students who participate in the Renaissance Youth Opera Theatre, or "RYOT," program, their eyes glisten and their faces become reflective and soft. "She does such a good job," they tell me; "my child is discovering who she/he is, they are growing so much," they say. Behind the curtain and apart from the outstanding productions this group regularly performs, the culture of RYOT and the quality of instruction Lori provides creates an almost sacred space for the students who participate each year.
Beyond the RYOT shows, many of our patrons have had the opportunity to see Lori's unforgettable performances on our stage in a number of musicals over recent years, including Young Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, Xanadu and Ragtime to name just a few. What our audience may suspect from her notable performances on our stage but may not know, however, is that Lori has enjoyed a tremendous career as a performing artist. Lori's performance career began with the Los Angeles Opera, the Roger Wagner Chorale and the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra. She then spent 10 years in Europe as a member of the Royal Flemish Opera in Belgium. I invited Lori to allow me to interview her and share some insights from that season of her life:
Colleen Cook: What was life like as a full-time opera singer in Belgium?
Lori Turner: European audiences support the arts in a very different way from those in the United States. As an opera singer with the Royal Flemish Opera, I had a full-time, salaried position and I worked for the season from August through July, with a paid summer vacation. We performed 6-8 fully-staged, avant garde productions each year in two houses, one in Antwerp and another in Ghent. The houses were slightly larger than the Ren, so about 1500 seats, and they would regularly be sold out.
The opera company was constantly aspiring to make opera an interesting visual as well as aural sensation for a younger audience, and they responded. European audiences have fewer preconceptions about opera and are generally more interested in attending an opera even if it's outside of their normal type of entertainment.
The arts are state-subsidized because European Governments believe that access to the arts is an important experience for the general population's quality of life, which really improves life for the artists because you can be a working artist. The Royal Flemish Opera Company is 1 of 3 national opera companies in a country the size of Los Angeles.
CC: When you left Europe and moved to Mansfield, what kind of culture shock did you experience?
LT: I tried to anticipate a lot of things, but I missed performing a lot. I missed being able to sing really challenging music, but I was also occupied being a parent, and that was priority one, so that was certainly impactful but it didn’t control my life.
It was harder on our son, because he was used to European lifestyle. He told his friends that it was always warm in America, because he had only visited the US in the summers. Let's just say that first winter was a rude awakening! Not having medical insurance was impactful. Teaching privately, via a community arts school, and not having a salary had a big impact.
CC: What advice would you give a young performer considering a career in performance?
LT: If they’re about to go into the world, into college, I’d encourage them to go to a college that has as many performance opportunities as possible. If they’re going into the world to work, then go some place that has as many performance opportunities as possible. I believe every American should spend time overseas – in Europe, Asia, England - to gain a world-wide perspective. Every performer should study the classics, regardless of your discipline, dancers should study ballet, actors should study Shakespeare, singers should study opera – the foundations don’t limit you they expand your higher ability.
CC: The decision to make a major shift from performing to moving your family back to the US and focus on parenting is brave and bold. What advice would you give a young parent?
LT: It really changed my life for 20 years. I was performing full-time, and then I wasn’t. For me, to be home at night, I felt that needed to happen to be an effective parent. For a time, I lived a little bit vicariously through my son’s involvement in theatre, as I suppose all parents do. I never lost touch with theatre because I was still directing. I still sang some with the symphony and concerts but now that Phillip is grown, I’m starting to perform again. I’m no longer a “Dorabella,” the roles I can play have changed as I've aged and as my instrument has changed, but I’m having to redefine myself as a performer now, 20-years later. One thing I did for myself and for my instrument, I studied the whole time that I wasn’t performing.
Lori's next production is RYOT's The Gondoliers & Pinocchio, February 4-5, 2017.
Get information and tickets here.