Artists Share Their Summer Reading List

Opera Stars Share Their Must-Read Summer Favorites

This is the summer to escape to faraway lands — at least, through the pages of a good book. But in this time of social distancing, it can be hard to casually thumb through the pages at your local library or browse the nearest bookstore, much less tap your friends for recommendations over coffee.

That’s where our artists come in. We reached out to Eun Sun Kim, our incoming music director, and five of today’s top opera stars to ask: What books are you reading this summer? And what books would you recommend to a friend?

Here, they share their favorite picks — and the deeply personal reasons why each book touched them.

Eun Sun Kim
EUN SUN KIM, Caroline H. Hume Music Director Designate
Conductor of 2019’s Rusalka

In this time of uncertainty and difficulty, I find myself returning to an old favorite: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.

The author had lost track of his mentor, Morrie, but he gets a second chance to connect when Morrie is diagnosed with ALS and is nearing the end of his life. The book is about how to live — how to appreciate things you’ve been taking for granted. It motivates us to get back on track to forging a life devoted to those we love and the community around us.

It’s a quick and easy read — I used to read it in different translations whenever I started to learn a new language! I hope this story brings comfort to those who are tired of isolation, as well as to those who are overworking and constantly online during this pandemic.

Christian Van Horn
CHRISTIAN VAN HORN, bass-baritone
Star of 2019’s Billy Budd and Orlando
Winner of the 2018 Richard Tucker Award

My summer reading suggestion is a book that I hold very dear. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet was given to me by a very special friend and incredibly talented artist. It immediately spoke to me as someone who is constantly presenting my art to a judging public.

Early in my career I think I often found myself trying to please “critics” when performing. “Critics” could mean colleagues, intendants, teachers, and coaches — not just a“ critic” in the typical sense.

It may have even worked briefly, but it wasn’t until I sang for myself and my own standards of storytelling that I felt free to perform authentically. I don’t know if that process has brought out my best, but it certainly has brought much more confidence and enjoyment to what I do.

Rilke tells us to look inward and embrace our solitude for true artistic expression and freedom. Stop “trying” to please others, which can be a futile endeavor.

Star of 2019’s Romeo and Juliet and Billy Budd

I just finished an astounding work of nonfiction, The Deviant's War by Dr. Eric Cervini. Based on recently declassified FBI reports and 40,000 personal documents, Cervini tells the story of the little-known early gay rights activist, Franklin “Frank” Kameny.

In 1957, he was working for NASA and was forced out of his job — after a series of humiliating interviews — for being gay during Senator Joseph McCarthy's “Lavender Scare.” However, un-like most gay men and women who lost their jobs, he fought back.

The Deviant's War traverses the politics of the 1960s and traces the forgotten ties that bound gay rights to the Black Freedom Movement, lesbian activism, and trans resistance. It's a story of America at a cultural and sexual crossroads, of FBI informants, of murder, betrayal, sex, love — and ultimately victory.

We're in a tough spot right now: all of us in the arts and on both sides of the proscenium. I needed a book that challenged me and my place in the world but offered me hope for the future — that the sun will rise again. This book did just that. It reminded me of the struggles that took place for me to find my place in the world and that we all need to keep fighting for what is just, good, and loving.

DANIELA MACK, mezzo-soprano
Star of 2021’s The Barber of Seville and 2014’s Partenope

Two books that have been particularly poignant for me have been Untamed by Glennon Doyle and White Rage by Carol Anderson.

I am inspired by Doyle's authenticity and encouragement to live unapologetically. My key takeaways have to do with finding the freedom to depart from gender norms, trusting in love, ignoring the need to control everything, and having the courage to live honestly.

By speaking to her own parenting experience, Doyle inspires me to reframe the way I teach my daughter to disrupt the status quo.

Then, I was inspired by tenor Lawrence Brownlee (through his book club) to dive into Anderson's powerful explanation of American history from the time of slavery to the present.

She traces how the legislative systems established back then have led directly to the racial divide we still experience today. This is an emotionally difficult read, but so important.

Much of what she describes is glossed over in our educational system, and I have become aware of so much from this powerful book. Anderson shines a light on painful truths, and I am grateful that I will be better equipped to educate my daughter to interrupt our inherent cycle of racism.

Star of 2021’s The Barber of Seville and 2019’s Romeo and Juliet
Grammy Award winner for LA Opera’s The Ghosts of Versailles

I needed a ray of sunshine in my life — a pick-me-up, if you will. The story of a young man in Malawi who brought his family and village out of poverty by harnessing the power of the wind was just that and more.

It is appropriately titled The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and I was moved by the author’s ability to use ingenuity, intellect, and an incredible work ethic to lift himself and his entire community out of poverty.

It also opened my eyes to some of the inner workings of military regimes and the suffering of those who are not fortunate enough to live in wealthier parts of the world. This amazingly true story immensely inspired me and showed me that the realm of possibility is greater than I ever imagined.

Star of 2015’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and 2014’s Partenope

I’m reading The Revisionaries by A.R. Moxon, aka Twitter’s @JuliusGoat. (Do follow; he’s a genius.) It’s complex, quirky, funny, brilliant, and absolutely unique.

I’m also reading the comic book series Strange Adventures by Tom King. Three issues in, and I am loving King’s ability to dig deep into the story’s emotional stakes, with great art from Mitch Gerads and Doc Shaner. And while I wait for issue 4, I’m rereading the space epic Saga by Brian K. Vaughan.

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