Alumni Profiles

Laura Aikin

Celebrated opera singer stays anchored to her home and family

Aikin close-up
Last book read Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks; Hobbies Golf, cross-stitching; Upcoming Western New York concerts Chautauqua Institution on July 29 and Clarence Town Bicentennial on August 3

As a student performing scenes with UB Opera Workshop, Laura Aikin, BFA ’86, learned a lot about her chosen art form, including how to make costumes and locate props on a shoestring.

“We didn’t have much of a budget and so sometimes we had to recycle the same wigs and costumes,” she says with a laugh. “I remember there was one long blond wig that someone had donated to the opera studio. We found a way to use it in every production we had—it was our mainstay headgear.”

Now Aikin has all the costume support she needs as a dramatic coloratura soprano performing on the world’s leading opera stages. Interviewed in February, Aikin was in Amsterdam to perform the role of Constanze in the Netherlands Opera production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. The spring saw her performing with the St. Louis Symphony and with La Coruna Spain. In June, she will sing at the Bastille in Paris with Pierre Boulez, performing the Altenberg Lieder by Alban Berg.

Aikin’s most cherished role, however, is busy working mom quietly cultivating her children’s love of music. She and her husband, Gianluca Pojaghi, an attorney in Milan, live in the small village of Basiglio with their two children, Marcello, 10, and Virginia, 3. “Marcello plays the cello and the piano, and this year he was the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz for his elementary school musical,” she says. “Virginia has an amazing aptitude for listening to music for long periods of time, and she likes to do her own little interpretations of my operas. They’re both very influenced by this sort of make-believe world that I’m in.”

After receiving her master’s in music from Indiana University, Aikin moved to Germany in 1990 to study at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich. There she met her husband, who was studying law in the Bavarian capital, and began her rapid ascent to the world’s leading stages: Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Chicago Lyric Opera, the Met, even a papal command performance in 2006.

While Europe remains her base, Aikin keeps in close touch with family members in Western New York, and in October performed at the dedicatory concert for the university’s Robert G. and Carol L. Morris Center for 21st Century Music. She also gave a master class for UB voice students, with a large group of high school choral students sitting in rapt attention on stage. Aikin helped the UB singers to bring more color into their voices and to produce a better sound, as they performed several German lieder. Fluent in German and Italian, she emphasizes the importance of knowing other languages deeply to mirror the composer’s intention. “It’s more than a matter of pronouncing words accurately,” she says.

As for the repertoire Aikin most enjoys, “I tend toward roles that are interesting characters, because the interesting characters tend to have really interesting music.” Her favorite is Berg’s Lulu. “I think he’s Mozart of the 20th century. He has this ability to touch the depths of the human spirit.”

And how would she express her joy in singing? “I appreciate now more than ever the genius of the composers whose works I perform, and the dedication and passion of the musicians with whom I am honored to work,” she says. “I also find myself often looking out into the audience and wishing I could thank each of them for making the performance possible.”

Story by Ann Whitcher-Gentzke, with photo by Douglas Levere, BA ’89