Conner (11) takes the stage at the Met Opera


Audrey Carbonell

“The moment the curtains open, I see thousands of outlines of people that I can’t quite make out — except for the front rows,” Ashleigh Conner (11) said. A singer at the Met Opera, Conner is performing in La Bohème and Turandot for the 2021-22 season. “To know that all of these people are watching gives me a boost of energy and I throw myself into my performance. This, along with hearing the orchestra take off, is the best feeling I have ever had.”

Conner was first introduced to opera around the age of seven when she attended a music camp with her siblings, she said. “We watched The Magic Flute on this TV, and my sister said this comment, ‘how did they get such tiny adults to be in the opera?’ and didn’t realize they were kids.” Conner was inspired to audition for the Met Opera immediately after this experience, and she has been a part of the Met Opera’s Children’s Chorus ever since, she said.

“It is wonderful to see a musician like Ashleigh, who is so incredibly talented, also be so kind and such a tremendous team player with such humility,” Music Department Chair Timothy Ho said. As the choir director, Ho works with Conner in Concert Glee Club and Treble Choir, he said.

When participating in the Concert Glee Club and Treble Choir, Conner sings in styles different from the one she performs in at the Met, Ho said. Depending on the size of a choir group, singers have to adjust their volume, their vowel shapes, and their expression in accordance with the other members, he said.

“When [Conner is] doing her work at the Met, it is not miked, so it’s a different technique which allows her to have a broader, larger sound that will carry unamplified since it’s literally her with some other singing,” Ho said. “A lot of that, in terms of technique, relies on her being a really smart musician and knowing when to use what style of singing at what time.”

During her time at the Met Opera, Conner has performed songs in Italian, French and German, she said. However, she does not find learning songs in multiple languages to be challenging. “My director teaches it from memory,” she said. “We never have sheet music, he just plays the music and we learn it like that. So memorization has never been hard.”

When on stage, Conner has a mix of feelings, she said. “When I’m singing by myself, that’s very nerve-racking. But when I’m singing in a chorus, it’s mostly just excitement.” 

Even with the occasional nerves, Conner said performing is one of the biggest enjoyments in her life. “It doesn’t feel like a job. It just feels like I am having fun, which is awesome.”

Being immersed into the melodious blend of singing and instrumental music fuels Conner’s love for performing, she said. “The sounds are just breathtaking — listening to the orchestra play is one of my favorite parts of singing at the Met.” 

Conner is also awed by the visual scenery that surrounds her during each performance, she said. “The stage is huge, and all of the sets are so interesting and detailed, so I see something new every time I perform,” she said. “In La Bohème, some of my staging is determined by me, so I can wander around the plaza and look at everything, which is awesome. Each night I do something a little bit different which makes my experience very exciting.” 

Although Conner loves her costumes, they have their ups and downs, she said. “We’re wearing so many layers, and the stage lights are very strong, so by the time that Act II is over, everyone is drenched in sweat and it’s terrible. But it’s worth it because we’re having so much fun.”

With about three performances per week, balancing school and work can sometimes be challenging, she said. “Most of the time I get home around 10:30 or 11, but if the performance starts late, sometimes I won’t get home until one.” 

Because of her work schedule, Conner has learned to put wellness first, she said. “Being a performer, one thing you really need to learn is how to prioritize yourself and the things that are most important to you — and to make sure that your mental health is not coming last.”

Alongside her performances at the Met, Conner also studies opera at Juilliard Pre-College and takes dance classes four times a week, she said. “It’s insane and very, very stressful, and sometimes I feel like I can’t do it anymore, but I think learning how to manage your time best is really the only way you can make it out.” 

For Conner, time management includes meeting with teachers before exams so she can feel prepared even if she does not have time to study, she said. “I have to sleep at some point.” 

Conner wants to pursue the performing arts in her future, she said. “I want to sing opera, pop, musical theater, everything,” she said. “Just to be a performer is my dream.” 

Conner’s goals include acting on Broadway and starring in an opera, she said. “When you’re a teenager, there aren’t that many roles you can do [on Broadway], so I’m waiting until I turn 18 so I can audition for everything.”