BERLIN – Stephen Decatur High School alumna Katerina Burton is no stranger to the classical music scene.
Currently based in New York City, recently she completed her graduate studies at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Robert C. White, Jr.
But since her time at Julliard, Burton – a 2012 graduate of Stephen Decatur High School – has established herself as a rising artist.
Last summer, for example, Burton made her debut as a Gerdine Young Artist with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where she played the roles of Verna, Young Lovely and Evelyn in the world premiere of “Fire Shut Up In My Bones.”
“I actually didn’t even get to go to my own graduation because I got hired as a Gerdine Young Artist with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis,” she said. “It’s a summer opera festival, and I was hired to do a brand-new world premiere opera by Terence Blanchard called ‘Fire Shut Up In My Bones.’ It completely changed my life.”
Burton said one of her passions is community outreach. At Julliard, for example, she was selected to be a Fellow at the Gluck Community Service Fellowship. And in December, she returned to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis to complete an artists-in-residence program, during which she and other performers traveled to schools, hospitals, senior living facilities and other venues.
“This is some of my favorite work to do because the thing is some of these people don’t have the means to buy a ticket, to head to Carnegie Hall, or The Met, or Alice Tully Hall,” she said. “That’s not what opera is. It’s not just for the upper classes, it’s for everyone.”
Burton said that belief is carried out in her newest engagement at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In September, she was hand-selected as an ensemble member for the new production of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” which is making Met history with its sell-out performances.
“This is a historic production, and it means so much to me because it is specifically for a black cast,” she said. “Our industry right now is trying to be more inclusive and it’s important that we see more black singers and more people of color in opera. Representation is so important.”
Burton said the show is currently on break, but will resume in early January.
“Every single show has been sold out and I think we actually broke some records in Met history,” she said. “They’ve added three shows that weren’t originally scheduled, so now I’ll be doing ‘Porgy and Bess’ until Feb. 15.”
Following her time at The Met, Burton said she will be returning to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for a role in “Die Fledermaus.”
She said she is also auditioning for several Young Artist programs.
“A Young Artist program can be a residency anywhere from one to maybe even three years,” she said. “You are basically in training. You are considered an up-and-coming professional, and you cover roles, so you become more comfortable on stage and recognize what it’s like to be a working professional opera singer.”
Burton said her interest in classical music and opera began at an early age. She explained that her mother was a competitive figure skater and would often perform to classical compositions.
“She would be skating to things like Carmen and classical songs,” she said. “Listening to her routines and the routines other skaters would do, I just loved that music. That’s where I got my love for classical music and opera.”
Burton said she started singing classically in high school. She credits local voice teacher Evonne Lee with introducing her to classical works and supporting her musical aspirations.
“She had a voice studio, and she’s the one who introduced me to art song and even arias,” she said. “She’s been a huge part of my life and a huge supporter from day one.”
Burton said it had always been her dream to be a professional singer. And now that she is, she said she hopes to one day pay it forward to the community that has given her so much.
“One of my long-term goals is to be able to come back to the Eastern Shore periodically and do master classes,” she said. “I would love to pass on whatever knowledge I have.”
Burton said she hopes her successes will inspire others to pursue their dreams.
“I’m so fortunate and blessed to live my dream and to make music and bring it to others,” she said. “Follow your dream and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The most wonderful thing I love about my hometown is that I always felt supported. I feel so lucky I had such supportive friends and community.”
Those interested can visit Burton’s website, www.katerinaburtonsoprano.com.