Gawrysiak life on the big stage started in Geneseo
It’s not surprising the path that the former Maggie Gawrysiak took has led her to making a debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Her home is in Seattle, WA, with husband, Sean Sandys, although Gawrysiak currently has been in New York City for more than a month rehearsing the opera “Peter Grimes” at the Metropolitan Opera House.
She is covering the role of “Auntie,” and she explained that under a cover contract, her responsibility is to be prepared to jump into musical or staging rehearsals and performances with little or no notice.
”I was called on a Sunday afternoon and was told I would be going on to sing at the show on a Wednesday evening,” she said. ‘A luxurious amount of time in the theater world.”
Even though short notice, it was sufficient time for family, including parents Mike and Lourdine Gawrysiak, Geneseo, and friends to get to New York to see the show when she made her debut at The Met on Oct. 26.
”I had one hour of musical rehearsal with a pianist on a Monday, about 40 minutes of music with my colleagues on Tuesday, and 30 minutes to walk the set right before going on for the performance on Wednesday,” she said. "The set for this production is four stories tall with three giant walls that move around the stage, sometimes moving when we are standing on them and singing.”
“Peter Grimes” is a show with a huge chorus, supplemental chorus, over 10 principle characters, orchestra in the pit, a band on stage and an organ in the wings,
“The conductor and soprano are Australian, the leading tenor is British, the baritone is Czech, and a handful of American singers round out the rest of the cast.," she said.
Sometimes a cover will be asked to jump in with one day of notice, sometimes hours, and it has even happened that a cover has had to go on mid-performance if someone got hurt or was sick during the show, she explained. “There are four performances left in November which I will cover from the cushy couch in the Green Room backstage at The Met, unless they want me to sing again. I’m ready if they need me!.”
Her first cover contract with The Met was Madame Larina in “Eugene Onegin” in the 2021-2022 season and she said, “I never went on. Previously, I have worked at The Met in workshops of a newly composed opera.”Gawrysiak explained a “workshop” is when the composer and librettist hear the opera with singers, “and we find any problematic moments and fix anything that needs to be reworked before the opera is mounted for the stage. The composer may have never heard the music with live singers so it’s an important step in the development of a new opera.”
Going from Geneseo to New York City has been a whirlwind for Gawrysiak, but she has never lost sight of her goal, to be a working artist, she said.
She graduated from GHS in 1997, when the high school was known as JD Darnall High School. While in high school, Gawrysiak was involved in the speech team, theater, choirs and Madrigals.
”I never made the top choir – the A Capella Group ,The Sound of 8 – 25 years later and the rejection still stings,” she said. “One of their popular songs was Toto’s ‘Africa’ a Capella and I remember thinking what they could do with their voices was so incredibly cool. I wanted to do that and was so devastated not to have the opportunity.”
In high school, she studied piano and voice with instructor Pam Edwards and Gawrysiak shared that Edwards traveled to see her perform when she made her Tanglewood debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2011).
”Unfortunately, there was a hurricane and the concert was cancelled, but fortunately she was able to attend a rehearsal," she said.
After high school, Gawrysiak attended Black Hawk College for two years where she sang in Madrigal, was with a Jazz Combo, and in choirs. ”I had a very positive experience with small class sizes and lots of opportunities to sing even though that wasn’t my primary focus,” she said.
“The most influential and important time for my musical development was probably at Western Illinois University in Macomb,” she said. “I studied and earned a degree in music therapy while on scholarships to sing in the choir. I was able to perform in short one-act operas, many choirs, sang in vocal competitions, and loved the fellowship of other musicians there. I’m still in contact with friends and professors at WIU, and three of my friends flew to NYC to see my Met debut.”
It was at Western where the young lady was first told she was talented enough to get into a music conservatory and that she could have a serious career in the arts. “Over the last week, some of my WIU professors are reaching out to say, ‘I told you so.”
She completed her degree at WIU and spent a year interning in the Music Therapy Department at a school for kids with special needs in upstate New York. “I loved the work, but had a feeling like maybe I was missing something so I prepared myself for graduate school auditions in hopes of getting into a vocal performance program," she said.
She earned a Master’s Degree in Music Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, in 2005, and then went on to study in training programs with the San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, the Steans Institute at Ravinia, Glimmerglass Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Wolf Trap Opera Center, and Aspen Opera Theatre.
Gawrysiak met her husband in 2015 while she was in Seattle, WA, for a production of “Marriage of Figaro” with the Seattle Opera. They dated long distance for a short time while she was on the road singing before relocating to Seattle in 2016.
The couple was married at City Hall in New York City in 2018 and walked to Little Italy for lunch after the ceremony, she said.
”My parents, my husband’s mother, my brother Mike and his wife, were in attendance.”
Gawrysiak and her husband have careers that take them to both coasts so they split their time between Seattle and Brooklyn, NY.
“We have a dog named ‘Satchel’ who travels with us to NY and is earning his frequent flier miles,” Gawrysiak said. “My husband, Sean Sandys, is a co-founder of a technology company in Seattle.”
When her contract is complete at the Met, Gawrysiak plans to go home to Seattle for a couple of weeks before leaving for her next job in Minnesota.
She will be back in Seattle with her husband and the dog, but New Year’s will find her in rehearsals in Minneapolis, she said.
‘I will end the 2022-2023 season with performances of 'Marriage of Figaro' in Wisconsin," she said. "Madison Opera is under some phenomenal leadership with a lively fan base and I anticipate the production will be great. When my parents come to see ‘Figaro’ in Madison, they can just drive, much easier than buying last minute flights to the Big Apple. Of course, I would love to sing closer to home, (hint, hint) if anyone from the Quad City Symphony is reading.”
When asked about some of her favorite performances, she listed Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” with the National Symphony Orchestra; “Le Noces” with New York City Ballet; Berta in “Barber of Seville” with the Seattle Opera; Ruth in “Pirates of Penzance” with Lyric Opera of Kansas City; the Old Lady in “Candide” at Tanglewood, and Ravinia; the Witch in “Hansel and Gretel” with Virginia Opera; and obviously, Auntie in “Peter Grimes” at The Met.
“When I’m singing in a new city, I love to explore, try the local food, check out the museums or areas of interest,” she said. ‘Having frequented donut shops in every city I’ve worked, I can confidently say that the Geneseo Donut Shop is the absolute best!”