Christina Vial has performed on stage countless times, in venues large and small. But a recent performance still gave her some pretty mean butterflies in her stomach.
The Luling native had moved to New York to work with famed opera teacher Bill Schuman and found great success, but after several years of performance, she stepped away from the spotlight to move back to hometown and raise a family with her husband.
But after 10 years on the sideline, she was going to be back on the stage, performing as part of a concert put on by Opus Opera, a group she helped found, and alongside Brian Hymel, an Opus Opera co-founder and a recording artist with Warner Classics who has found stardom performing on major stages worldwide.
“Every morning I’d wake up and thought I was going to be sick,” Vial said. “My husband told me, ‘hey, you’ve got this,’ but I hadn’t sung in front of people in years, besides a wedding or funeral here and there. And I’d be performing next to Brian … it just raised the stakes. I was incredibly anxious about it.”
Vial holds her singing to a high standard, but after the performance, she felt she did just fine. She also hopes her performances help elevate Opus Opera events to a level that inspires those who attend, particularly young people.
That’s always been the goal behind the idea for the group, which was formed by Vial and her husband, Patrick Comer, Hymel and Irini Kyriakidou, a highly accomplished soprano. The four were discussing ways to widen opera’s appeal and introduce it to different audiences. The plan started to truly formulate at a barbeque at Hymel’s home, fueled by the premise that “it’s New Orleans, just add alcohol.”
“Opera audience is dying,” Vial said. “Like Brian says, if his kids want to be opera singers, we want to have an audience for them. That won’t be the case if nothing changes.”
The group aims to create new experiences for people by pairing vocal music with other creative art forms. Opus Opera’s website describes their events as a way to draw people to see these performances in non-traditional venues to brush off the stigma of stuffiness that makes the classical art world less accessible to a wider audience.
It began with a wine event last year that paired French Opera and French wine. Another event carried a theme representing the philosophy of music, and another concert was collaboration between opera and circus art.
Opus Opera has also held a talk and performed a demonstration at the St. Charles Parish East Bank library.
“At our next wine event, I saw a couple of young people (from the library) and I felt, ‘mission accomplished,’” Vial said. “That’s what this is all about. People think they don’t know opera or don’t want to see it, but when they see it in a different venue and get to experience those goosebumps and hair-raising moments, it can really ‘wow’ them.”
Singing professionally didn’t always seem in the cards for Vial, who originally went to school to study medicine and follow in the footsteps of her father, the late Dr. David Vial.
One of twelve Vial siblings, Christina said her father had somewhat rigid plans for his children initially.
“He was a Depression baby, and he wanted us to be able to support ourselves,” she said. “So we had three choices: medicine, law or business.”
Eventually, her desire to perform overwhelmed plans to go into medicine. She changed her major to voice at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and went on to enter the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to study operatic performance.
Her father was a tough sell.
“It took a little coaxing,” she said with a laugh. “When I told him I wanted to go into music, he was not happy. He didn’t think I’d be able to support myself singing, so I got a lot of resistance when I wanted to become a music major.”
But he did indeed come around.
“When he started hearing me do more, he was fully in and amazingly supportive,” Vial said. “I couldn’t have done it without my dad.
“Of the 12 of us, I’m the only musician, and we all had to take piano. It was just thought of as a hobby. When I moved back to Luling, people know me as Dr. Vial’s daughter and they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re the singer.’”
Vial thought she was done with performing for good when she returned home. She had Patrick have three children, all aged within four years of one another.
“He never asked me to give it up, but I didn’t feel like I could do both,” Vial said. “My husband started a company and is traveling constantly … there just wasn’t room for it.”
Opus Opera, unexpectedly, triggered her comeback, and now she gets to enjoy both worlds.
And the cause seems to be taking off, Opus Opera now having garnered attention nationally from publications like the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.
“It’s kind of getting big, and the whole thing has just been really cool to be a part of,” Vial said.
Those wishing to learn more about upcoming events may visit opusopera.org.