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Sound Bites: Murrella Parton

A soprano from Tennessee prepares to sing Fiordiligi this summer at OTSL.

By Evelyn G. Kocak

MURRELLA PARTON did not anticipate becoming an opera singer. “I grew up listening to country music and classic rock, whatever hymns were playing in church. My dad is a Baptist preacher,” says the soprano, who comes from a small mountain town in Tennessee. When the University of Tennessee’s director of opera came to visit her high school, Parton’s choir director encouraged her to sing for him. “And I was like, ‘Opera? Oh no I’m not!’” she says, laughing. The school awarded her a full scholarship.

Unhappy studying classical music, Parton left the university after a year and a half. A serious illness followed, but the singer had a revelation while convalescing at home. “This commercial came on. I could not tell you what for. The music was Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings.’ And I started weeping—openly weeping. And I remember thinking, ‘How can something this intangible create such a visceral response? And if I have the power to be part of something this big, I have to do it.’”

Photograph by DarÍo Acosta
Hair and makeup by Affan Graber Malik

© DarÍo Acosta

The soprano, who is distantly related to another singing Parton, returned to the University of Tennessee to complete her music-education degree. She then earned both her master’s in voice and an artist’s diploma from University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Parton and her husband, Kevin, who met while the singer was in graduate school, now call Cincinnati home.

This June, Parton sings Fiordiligi in Tara Branham’s new production of Così Fan Tutte at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. “It’s actually the first role that I ever sang in college, so it’s kind of a full-circle moment for me,” she says. A finalist in 2021’s Met Opera Laffont Competition, Parton is also preparing for the upcoming competition season. “I think that where I really fall in love with what I’m doing is anything Mozart and the big bel canto stuff. I recently started playing with ‘Casta diva.’ There’s such a lofty ideal of these pieces that it’s kind of scary to even begin to work with them. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.”

Outside of opera, the singer still enjoys a wide variety of music. “I’m trying to even think of what is in my car right now,” Parton says, laughing. “I think there’s probably a Dolly Parton CD in there.”