Richmond Native Molly Phelan’s Youthful Obsession Becomes Career Path

Richmond, VA (October 18, 2016)

Richmond native Molly Phelan was captivated by opera at an early age thanks to a kindergarten teacher, parental guidance, and Virginia Opera. 

She simply, “fell in love with high notes” after hearing a Virginia Opera production of The Magic Flute at age six.  Little did she realize, while watching her first live opera, that someday she would be singing with Virginia Opera as a Herndon Foundation Emerging Artist.  

Molly grew up surrounded by music in her hometown of Richmond, VA, living in the historic Fan district and Northside.  Her kindergarten teacher gave her a tape of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and from that moment on, she became hooked.  She listened to the recording constantly and sang along.  When her mother discovered Virginia Opera was performing The Magic Flute in Richmond, she immediately bought tickets for the two of them.   Molly confessed she fell asleep after the first half hour, but still remembers the excitement of attending her first live opera.  In fact, it inspired her Halloween costume choices for the next two years; first as Pamina and the following year as the Queen of the Night, both lead characters in her favorite opera, The Magic Flute.  Virginia Opera’s impact continued as she was selected to be a member of the Greater Richmond Children’s Choir where she performed until age seventeen.  Her time with the choir provided valuable training in musicality, theory, and exposure to a wide range of music. Coincidentally, her future Virginia Opera colleague, Dr. Glenn Winters was the founder of that organization.  Molly attended Open High School in Oregon Hill and during that time regularly patronized Virginia Opera performances with a pianist classmate who also loved opera.  Two of their favorite productions were Verdi’s La Traviata and Rigoletto.

Molly earned her Master’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she studied with Catherine Cook, and her Bachelor’s degree cum laude from Lawrence University. She was the recipient of an Encouragement Award at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and was awarded Voice Department Honors by the faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2014. 

“Molly is an extremely promising young singer, with excellent poise and polish. Part of Virginia Opera’s mission is to identify rising, talented young voices, and Molly exhibits all of those sought-after qualities. It is truly exciting to watch her growth and development as a member of the Herndon Foundation Emerging Artists Program, as she garners the knowledge and experience to further her career in opera!”     -Virginia Opera’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Adam Turner

This is an exciting time for Molly as she recalls her first week working for Virginia Opera this season, “The very first thing I did as a young artist with Virginia Opera was sing with the Richmond Symphony at Opera in the Park, which for years had been a goal of mine, so it was the best possible way to kick off my time here.”  Through November, she is traveling across the state with Virginia Opera’s Education and Outreach Touring program performing Dr. Glenn Winters’ opera, Tales from the Brothers Grimm.  The opera is a delightful twist on three of the famous Grimm Brothers Tales and offers children a rollicking 40 minute escape through charming musical storytelling. 

Performing for elementary school students can be challenging.  Molly and her fellow cast members must be sensitive to outbursts of laughter, enthusiastic verbal responses, and squeals of delight from the children.  The cast encourages hearty applause and vocal cheers of “bravo” when so inspired.  Fortunately, the children are happy to oblige.  After the performance, audience members are invited to ask questions of the cast and get to know the inside story on being part of an opera.  Questions range from, “did you make the costumes yourselves?” to, “how do you get to be an opera singer?”   Molly acknowledges, “how rewarding it is to introduce young students to opera, especially since my first opera exposure came from school!” Virginia Opera is proud to showcase young artists like Molly Phelan.  Her career path exemplifies the life changing impact opera can have on young children through Education and Outreach Touring programs Virginia Opera has promoted for nearly forty years.

“The Herndon Foundation Emerging Artists Program is at the center of Virginia Opera’s education and outreach efforts, with these young singers and pianists acting as both artists and advocates in the communities that we serve. Molly Phelan is an integral part of this process. The enthusiastic audience response garnered by Molly’s talent and artistry is only further enhanced by the fact that she is a Virginia native.” – Robert Cinnante, Statewide Director of Education, Virginia Opera

About Virginia Opera

Virginia Opera Association, Inc., in its 42nd season, is known and respected nationwide for the identification and presentation of the finest young artists, for the musical and dramatic integrity of its productions, and for the ingenuity and variety of its education and outreach programs.  Mainstage performances in three markets across the Commonwealth reach nearly 50,000 attendees annually.  In March of 1994, by unanimous vote of the Virginia General Assembly, Virginia Opera was named The Official Opera Company of the Commonwealth of Virginia in recognition of the organization’s contribution to the state as well as to the world of opera.  For tickets and information visit or call 866.673.7282. ###

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