Having grown up in the seaside splendor of Santa Barbara, it’s not surprising that Ciera Lamborn speaks of the thrill of riding waves. But as an opera singer, the swells she floats upon are sonic ones.
“It’s an amazing experience to be part of something so much bigger than yourself-especially when there is an 80-piece orchestra, and you’re onstage,” she said. “It’s a crazy wave to ride.”
Lamborn has earned her degrees (three, in total), completed her participation in various apprentice programs, and is heading out into the uncertain world of the professional soloist. Appropriately enough, she is kicking off this crucial phase of her career in her hometown, performing in two of this season’s Opera Santa Barbara productions.
Saturday afternoon, Lamborn will sing the role of Pamina in an hour-long, family-friendly version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In March, she will sing the role of Frasquita in a full production of Carmen conducted by Nir Kabaretti.
She sang excerpts from that Bizet opera during the Granada Theatre’s opening night gala this past spring. She called that experience a unique thrill, noting, “I saw movies there as a kid!”
The Magic Flute, which will also be on the Granada stage, will be conducted by Opera Santa Barbara Music Director Valery Ryvkin and directed by Miller James. “For our production, the complicated storyline has been somewhat simplified and will be sung in English,” said James.
“I think kids will really enjoy it,” said Lamborn. “The story is very simple. It’s about a princess who gets kidnapped and a prince who comes to save her. It also has its silly moments. It’s a great way to introduce children to opera.”
A music gene appears to run in Lamborn’s family. Her maternal grandmother was an aspiring opera singer; her paternal grandfather sang in choruses and danced in movie musicals in the 1940s and 1950s (as well as played the drums). “Family cut both their careers short,” she reported. “Grandpa got an insurance job; Grandma became a mom.”
“When I began singing around the house, my parents immediately noticed it because of their parents,” Lamborn continued. “My mom asked if I wanted to take piano or singing lessons. I thought singing would be easier.”
And so she began studying opera at age 11. She had already received basic musical training at Montecito Elementary School, where she played the recorder and sang in the chorus. “My public school education in Santa Barbara was very musical,” she said, noting that she continued to sing in choruses at Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High School.
Arguably her most important training took place in the summers during her high school years, when she attended Elizabeth Mannion’s opera program at UCSB. It was Mannion who told the 16-year-old Lamborn: “I think you can do this.”
She ended up getting a scholarship to UCSB, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in music. She then transferred to UCLA, where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in vocal performance. While living in Los Angeles, she sang in the L.A. Opera chorus, most recently in the world premiere of Howard Shore’s The Fly.
She also made several appearances on prime-time television, appearing in an episode of the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle and singing “Ave Maria” at a funeral in an episode of Desperate Housewives.
“It was the funeral of Carlos’s mother in the first season,” she said. “It gave me a whole new appreciation for TV actors. For my 10-minute scene, it took eight hours to do, with all the different shots. I decided I don’t want to do that. I do like getting residuals. The other day I got a $9 check for Malcolm in the Middle. “
Lamborn recently moved to Paso Robles, where her husband helps run his family’s vineyard. He is also a musician, although he works in a very different genre: He sings in the country music band Rancho Deluxe, which regularly plays around Central California (and soon is making a European tour).
“I always looked down on country music,” she said. “I told my husband I didn’t like it when we first met. He said, ‘I don’t think you’re listening to the right country music.’ He introduced me to the classics: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, all those guys. I said, ‘I really like this.'”
When someone tells her they don’t like classical music, she gives the same response: You probably haven’t heard the really good stuff, or at least the particular type of classical music that speaks to you. That’s one reason she enjoys performing for children; their ears are still open, and they’re responsive to types of music they haven’t heard before.
Of course, they can also be a challenge.
“Children are, in some ways, the most difficult audience,” she said. “The moment you drop your energy, you’ve lost them. I respect teachers so much more after I have performed for children!”
See The Magic Flute on Saturday, October 11, at 2 and 4 p.m. at the Marjorie Luke Theatre (721 E. Cota St.). Free for children younger than 12; adults $13. For tickets and information, visit operasb.com or call 898-3890.