Singing for his dessert
Baritone Brandon Mayberry opens his
own cupcake store.
Opera is a tough business. It’s not for thin-skinned people, and it’s not for those who think they can pull it off part-time. The opera world takes its pound of flesh and expects singers to bow to the greatness of the art form, forsaking everything to achieve the dream of imparting Verdi to those not blessed with vocal cords of gold.
Or does it? Baritone Brandon Mayberry is in his third season in the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists—and is opening Swirlz Cupcakes, a cupcake shop, on September 1. He’s not setting aside his opera career, but is trying to keep it going along with starting a business.
Opera singers are, of course, known for their appetites and corresponding waistlines, so a bakery is a reasonable option for anyone who likes to taste his creations. Yet Mayberry is rather svelte, despite his professed hankering for sugar. “I’ve always had a big sweet tooth,” he says. “Other people are into really savory foods, but man, give me sugar.”
When he learned that the all-cupcake store Cupcakes, in Lakeview, was up for sale last fall, he thought about opening his own. The nostalgic, homey concept of a store devoted entirely to cupcakes was a niche he could fill. After finding three people willing to enter into a partnership, Mayberry and his associates worked out the business plans. They’ve been working since January on ironing out the details of opening the store. The day he talked to us, he was already strategizing franchising opportunities.
But Mayberry’s life obviously hasn’t been focused entirely on desserts. He began singing at a church in small-town Olney, Illinois, when he was 16. “[The church choir] needed someone to fill in for this cantata they were doing, and I’d never even tried singing,” he says. He planned to audition for a community-theater production of The Sound of Music, and one of the audition’s judges asked him if he’d ever studied singing. Voice teacher JoAnn Pottorff spotted his talent and took him into her studio at Olney Central College, the local community college.
He auditioned for LOCAA in 2002 while enrolled at Indiana University and the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program, another young-artist program. The 2004–05 season was his first. Before that, however, he went to DePaul and “regularly attended the Lyric, hoping I could get into [LOCAA],” but not planning on it. The successful program has prepared many young singers for international careers, and they get valuable onstage experience in low-profile roles in Lyric productions.
Mayberry and his teachers tried to polish his technique once he entered the program, and perfecting the new style has kept him from being as active in the opera house as he’d like. “When I’ve been onstage, it’s been in small roles,” he says. He was able to get some stage time with a minor role in Carmen, which he counts as the most fun he’s had while in LOCAA. But as useful as that experience was, he says that being able to shadow the mainstage artists and being in a professional environment taught him a lot about navigating that world. His vocal issues are smoothing themselves out, and he’s optimistic for the coming season.
With the store opening on September 1 and Lyric’s season starting September 16, Mayberry’s fall schedule is pretty full. He is onstage come September 16, and even sings the first notes of the year in Turandot. In it, he plays the Mandarin, who explains that princess Turandot demands suitors to be beheaded if they can’t answer three riddles. She has a little of the haughtiness of Marie Antoinette, who was no stranger to the guillotine herself, and may have had a thing or two to say to Mayberry’s career choice. Let him eat cupcakes, maybe?
Swirlz Cupcakes (705 W Belden Ave, 773-404-2253) opens September 1. For info on Lyric Opera’s season, go to www.lyricopera.org.