Sullivan trading in Italian food for Italian song

Even before "Nomadland" was released in February, Clare Sullivan had plans to convert her van, named Margery (after her favorite Vulfpeck song), into a mobile home.

After spending two post-collegiate years living in her childhood home and working at Altamura Pizza, Sullivan is ready to embark on the next act of her life. Instead of making pizzas, she plans to support herself singing arias.

Music has always been part of her life.

"My mom put me in children's choirs," Sullivan said. "She is a costume designer, so she was always involved in musicals, so I was always around musicals. I didn't really know it could be a job. I didn't know you could go to school for it."

That she did, earning a degree in music performance/voice from Washington State University in 2019. She returned home for gap year and found a job at Altamura after her mother ordered a charcuterie board there, met the owners and encouraged her to apply.

"My mom loves the sisters downstairs," Sullivan said from The Hinsdalean's office in the same building. "She was nagging me for weeks."

When COVID-19 hit, Sullivan said she was relieved she had not gone straight to graduate school. Instead, she found a wonderful teacher here.

"I found out that I don't have to go to grad school to be a professional opera singer," she said.

In August, audition season will open for young artist programs, the equivalent of internships for opera singers. The programs range in length from two weeks to six months.

"You're building your (curriculum vitae) and working with the teachers and coaches and directors in that opera house," she said.

She hopes to string together a number of these programs across the country, she said, gaining experience and building a network.

"I figure I'll just bring my house to my gigs, so I am going to live in a van," she said.

Converting that van - with the help of her cousin, an electrical engineer - will be her focus this summer. In order to have the time to do so, her last day at work will be Sunday.

She said she'll miss her bosses and co-workers but is passionate about pursuing her dream. Singing opera, she said, is like competing in the Olympics.

"The mechanics of singing classical music are so fun to me because it's like a sport," she said. "You have to sing in a healthy way where you can be heard from 150 yards away at the back of an opera house."

Sullivan doesn't hesitate when asked about her ideal role.

"In a perfect world, I would love to sing Violetta in 'La Traviata.'

"I would like to perform at the Staatsoper in Vienna," she added. "It's the first big opera house I went to overseas, and it is just gorgeous."

The 24-year-old is much less certain when asked what her life will look like 10 years from now.

"I don't know, which is exciting to me," she said. "I'm happy not to know that."

- story by Pamela Lannom, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean