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How does a 33-year-old make a living as an opera singer?

The life of an opera singer is a nomadic one.

“I have a manager in New York and he arranges my year according to availability and interest in companies,” said Jeff Gwaltney, 33, an opera singer who lives in Rock Hill. “I have to take trips often to make auditions … most of the time in New York because that’s the center of influence.”

The number of jobs an opera singer needs is based on the size of the companies and what their budget is, he said.

Last year, he performed the role of Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” at the Royal Albert Hall in London, another gig with Opera Holland Park in London, traveled to Ireland to perform in the Wexford Festival, and performed in some concerts as well.

Before that life of travel began, he actually moved to the Charlotte area for the sake of opera. The Florida native and The University of Indiana graduate got a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance from Winthrop University in 2009 after first being drawn in by former Winthrop professor John Fowler.

“The mentor and the vocal teacher is really important to opera singers because it’s something you can’t learn from a book,” said Gwaltney who just performed with Opera Carolina as Canio in “I Pagliacci” in April. “…It’s like a jedi — you seek out people who have the knowledge.”

Aside from the travel though, Gwaltney experiences young professional life in Charlotte pretty much like anyone else. He orders coffee (like at Not Just Coffee), he has a pair of American-flag-themed shades (#Murica), he is a fan of local craft beer hangouts (like OMB, Birdsong, Wooden Robot and Triple C), he lives with his wife Leah Segrin (owner of Aspire Academy, which is a Montessori-based school in Rock Hill), loves local music and the US National Whitewater Center, and he has a history of dabbling in home brewing (he loves the process because “it’s really primal” and “you get to enjoy your product”).


Although, his bar conversation could take a different turn. He said it gets kind of annoying when he tells a stranger what he does for a living and, he said, “Before you know it, it’s like, sing for me.”

Sometimes he does — especially when offered a beer.

His one complaint at work is a little different from most. “I’m either dying or killing somebody,” he said. “Can I just do a song and dance and laugh a little bit?”

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But when it comes down to it, whether he’s considered a “normal” young professional or not, I like that he looks for the meaning behind what he does.

“Art has the unique ability to reach through the banal and mundane to grasp the sublime and profound,” Gwaltney said. “I like being part of that.”

Photos: Katie Toussaint, Kristin Little Sobieski, File from Opera Dublin production of Ruslka