SALT LAKE CITY — Erin Morley is a mother, a Mormon and a world-class opera singer — and she takes the train to work.
Two hours. Both ways.
“I have a deluge of emails I go through on the train,” Morley said. “I’m answering them. I’m coordinating playdates for my kids. I’m working on negotiating a contract. I feel like I’m running a business.”
But calling Morley’s singing career a “business” is an understatement. The Utah native’s busy performance schedule currently includes rehearsing for her upcoming performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Ken Noda, an administrator and vocal coach at the Met, described the magnitude of Morley’s position.
“Erin is probably the top coloratura soprano in the world — meaning she sings the highest soprano with the highest high notes with a spectacular agility,” Noda said. “Her repertoire is very showy because she is an extremely high soprano. There are a lot of acrobatics and real fireworks in her kind of roles and characters she sings.”
Beginning Sept. 26, Morley will be performing the role of Olympia in Jacques Offenbach's “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” a beloved classic at the Met and one Morley has performed before with the famed opera company.
This time, however, Morley has chosen to commute from her home in New Haven, Connecticut, to rehearsals instead of renting an apartment in the city. She made this decision so she could spend more time with her husband and two daughters.
“Sometimes, if I’ve had a really overwhelming rehearsal, I just sit there and do nothing,” Morley said of the train ride home. “I take the moment to be still — and as soon as I walk through the door, I get spit upon, and all these issues get thrown at me — and I love it.”
Tackling the role of motherhood
Both Morley and her husband have demanding careers, so making time to spend with their 7-month-old and 6-year-old daughters can be tough. John Morley, her husband, is a professor at Yale Law School.
Erin Morley said despite the time constraints, she and her husband are “very present” in their daughter’s lives.
“We always eat dinner together, if at all possible, and we are very strict about nanny hours,” Morley said. “We don’t have a 24-hour nanny. We have a nanny who travels with us and lives with us, but she works a nine-to-five job. We have to put boundaries on our time, and I will turn down a lot of work if it doesn’t work for my children. I toss it out the window.”
Morley said she believes motherhood is the greatest work she is doing. She said she feels the responsibility and takes it seriously. “It’s my greatest joy and it always will be. I love being a mother.”
But Morley also loves her career.
“I feel like having both things as a part of my life is what brings me balance as a person,” she said. “If we can navigate our tangled web of moving parts correctly, the two occupations of motherhood and career complement each other very beautifully.”
Morley said she sees the integration of motherhood with her career as a great benefit to her daughters. Her eldest daughter has already visited 10 different countries, and she is just 6. She has used her passport well — learning bits of other languages and making friends around the world.
“I feel like there’s a really unique education that my oldest daughter has gotten,” Morley said. “She’s been exposed to so many different cultures and she just eats it up. She’s really loved it, and I think it’s been a great education for her.”
A career sustained by faith
Noda first met Morley, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when she graduated from the Julliard School of Music in May 2007. In the 10 years since, he has worked with Morley closely, observing her family and personal life in the process.
“I’m close to many singers just because of the kind of work we do,” Noda said. “It’s very intense. It’s deep. We’re delving into music. We’re delving into character, psychology — all kinds of things that go way beyond music.”
Noda said he has been moved many times by Morley’s faith and the Utah community she was raised in. During her return performance in Provo last year, Noda witnessed what he believes to be the source of Morley’s inner strength.
“The unity, the love and the support that was in the auditorium that night — it was full of her family, friends and former classmates — I had never felt something like that before,” Noda said. “I am Japanese by birth, yet having grown up in America my whole life, the only times I had felt that kind of unity were the rare occasions I used to go back to Japan as a child. I realized how Erin’s faith has so much to do with the core she has as a human being.”
Having worked with LDS singers Wendy Bryn Harmer and Tamara Mumford at the Met, Noda said all three had the same “fortitude” or “core.” He specifically attributed Morley’s success in the opera world to her dedication in her religious world, along with her “wonderful” parents and her husband, whom Noda called “a dream.”
Noda said he believes Morley’s life truly inspires her opera career and her opera career inspires her life.
“Her artistry is so completely inseparable from her humanity,” Noda said. “I believe that’s where the greatness of her artistry comes from, and I believe it has to do with her religion.”
Noda said it is rare for someone in opera to retain their drive and values the way Morley has, especially considering her outstanding success.
“A lot of careers skyrocket and then just crash right back to the ground — but she has sustained that in the years since she graduated, and now she’s singing in every major opera house in Europe,” Noda said. “Not bad for a girl from Utah.”