An Interview With Michael Dailey

Michael Dailey

Michael Dailey and Betany Coffland take a break from their royal duties in the 2009 production of La Cenerentola, surrounded by new friends from the Girl Scouts.


“A teacher once told me that a person doesn’t pick music, music picks the person. And in my case, that’s been true.”

Despite possessing a voice that Opera News has described as “blessed with freshness,” Michael Dailey’s career as an opera singer occasionally surprises even himself. “I am not from a musical family, and extroverted behavior was not encouraged. Children were to be polite and quiet. Opera is quite the opposite — it is all about expressing yourself.” In fact, when Dailey experienced his first symphony performance on an elementary school field trip, he asked his teacher whether the musicians were playing the instruments or playing tapes!

As a teenager, Dailey had to fulfill a fine arts requirement at Tallwood High School in Virginia, and on a whim he chose theater. “In my sophomore year they were doing the musical Pippin. I auditioned with a jazzy/soul interpretation of ‘Happy Birthday,’ and was cast as the lead.” Based on that performance, he was invited to sing with the Madrigals, “a small, prestigious group that sang classical pieces, not Broadway show tunes.” Dailey also competed for a place in the District Choir, and sang in the All-State Chorus his senior year. While still in high school, a friend invited him to see his first opera, a Virginia Opera performance of Rigoletto. He remembers getting dressed up in his Madrigals tuxedo for the occasion, and that by the end of the opera, he had been moved to tears by the drama and music.

When Dailey was a senior, his high school choral director Claudia Griffin encouraged him to sing for David Clayton, the choral director at Virginia Wesleyan College. A successful audition later, Dailey’s life had been given a new direction: “I was the first male in my family to go to college, and it was while I was an undergrad that I first studied with a voice teacher.”

It is often said that only one in 10,000 singers have a successful career in opera. Knowing early on that the odds were stacked against him, Dailey continued singing while pursuing a B.A. in Psychology at Virginia Wesleyan, and an M.S.Ed. in Counseling from Old Dominion University. All the while, he found himself thinking more about performances than his studies. “That is where music found me. I knew it had to be my life!” He finished his degrees and worked as a counselor for two years, while singing with the Virginia Chorale, in church choirs, and in the Virginia Opera chorus.

He was accepted to the resident artist-in-training program at Tri-Cities Opera (Binghamton, NY) with Opera Guild and Adele Bernstein Scholarships in 2006, and began singing opera full-time. In 2007 he toured Western Europe with New York Harlem Productions’ Porgy and Bess. “It’s an excellent company that only tours this one opera. It was my first time in Europe, too.”

Dailey joined the resident artist ensemble at Opera San José in 2008, on a partial fellowship from the W. Gibson Walters Memorial Fund. “The best thing about Opera San José is that it offers singers the opportunity to grow professionally, by doing so many leading roles. Many people don’t realize that it is the second largest opera company in the Bay Area, and that its productions are cast around the residents. Other professionals, usually former residents, are hired when other voices are needed.” In the past four years, Dailey has sung numerous roles for the company, including Alfredo (La traviata), Beppe (Pagliacci), Levin (Anna Karenina), Des Grieux (Manon), Prunier (La rondine), Don Ramiro (La Cenerentola), Don José (Carmen), Ferrando (Così fan tutte), Lensky (Eugene Onegin), Nemorino (The Elixir of Love), and Count Almaviva (The Barber of Seville) which is his current favorite.

Dailey prepares for a role by translating the score, listening to recordings in order to get the concept of the entire piece, and speaking the text in rhythm. For inspiration, Dailey’s favorite tenor is Nicolai Gedda, probably the most widely-recorded tenor in history. “He is a true lyric tenor, like me.” He also greatly admires Natalie Dessay and Joan Sutherland, because their voices are so unique. “They were never pushed to sound like anyone but themselves. Every note Sutherland sings is beautiful. ” Outside of opera, Dailey’s favorite musician is Prince. “’Around the World in a Day” was the first cassette tape I ever received — I would listen to it literally two or three times a day, and sing along.”

This season, Dailey concludes his fourth-year of residency with Opera San José. “Opera singing is a difficult occupation: a singer must have a beautiful voice, of course, but they must also be a good actor, able to draw in the audience, and able to accurately pronounce many languages. All of the resident artists at Opera San José hope to be better singers and performers when they leave, than when they arrived.”

The intersection of Dailey’s vocal talent and academic interests provide him with an array of interesting prospects for the future. “Music can hit me with its feeling and power,” Dailey says. “It has its own language. At one time I considered becoming a music therapist. Did you know some composers wrote pieces for their personal therapy, for instance, after suffering the loss of a loved one?”

In the meantime, Opera San José fans are not the only ones who see Dailey’s opera career taking off. In 2010, Dailey was invited back to Virginia Wesleyan to sing at the college’s 41st commencement ceremony, where he inspired graduates with performances of “Nessun dorma” (Turandot) and “Make Them Hear You” (Ragtime). Last summer, Dailey sang as an apprentice artist with Santa Fe Opera; he will be returning this summer as an understudy for the lead tenor in Maometto II, and sing an additional comprimario (supporting) role.

If you enjoyed Dailey’s recent performance as Alfredo in La traviata, be sure to catch him singing the title role in our upcoming production of Faust, April 21 — May 6, 2012.