Danish-American soprano Ann-Marie MacFarlane grew up in Southfield, Michigan, surrounded by art. Her parents, Danish illustrator Inge-Lise Bay and the late American painter Donald Douglas MacFarlane, both worked at home, and Ann-Marie fondly remembers hearing Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, Puccini's "O mio babbino caro", and Berlioz's rousing choral arrangement of La Marseillaise playing on the radio while her parents worked.

"We had an old piano that my dad had rescued. The neighbors were throwing it away, and he said, 'we'll take it!'" The instrument's keys were missing their ivory covers, and the note names had been written on the bare wood with magic marker. A piano tuner deemed the instrument a lost cause. "I might have had perfect pitch today if it weren't for that piano," Ann-Marie laughs.

It wasn't until the age of ten that Ann-Marie's parents were able to provide her lessons with the new school music teacher, Mrs. Bradley. Two years later, Ann-Marie was playing The Warsaw Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue in their original arrangements.

When Mrs. Bradley moved away, Ann-Marie's parents found a new teacher through their son's circle of friends. Knowing that Yukiko was trained as a concert pianist and opera singer, Ann-Marie's father wanted to be prepared. Ann-Marie a book of Puccini soprano arias, in case Yukiko wanted to sing with accompaniment. "I'll never forget that book. It had a purple and yellow cover. The cover fell off a long time ago, but I still have all the pages. Just not all in one place."


Ann-Marie was moved by Puccini's music and by the stories of his operas. The twelve-year-old Ann-Marie saw a lot of herself in characters like Liu and Mimì. "Adolescence was a tricky time for me. I wanted to pour my heart out like these characters did," Ann-Marie explains.

At one point, Ann-Marie began Puccini's characters that she learned their arias by heart. "I wanted to learn the words to the arias, so I wrote them down and kept them in my pocket, so I could memorize [Tosca's aria] 'Vissi d'arte' while the other kids were jumping rope and playing dodgeball," the soprano remembers. Only Occasionally Ann-Marie would sing out loud, but she knew she lacked the training and development to express herself fully. So when she wanted to pour her heart out, she went to the piano and played the entire score of Tosca. She worked out a method for reading all three lines of music at once -- the vocal line plus the accompaniment.

Lacking the funding to buy the opera scores herself, Ann-Marie frequented the Southfield Public Library, where she ordered piano scores of operas the library didn't have. There was a 25-cent fee for interloans from other libraries. "If Tosca, Butterfly and Turandot arrived on the same day, we were out 75 cents. That was a lot of money for my parents at the time!" Ann-Marie laughs.

Ann-Marie's college career began at age fourteen when she was accepted to Lawrence Technological University as a Humanities major. Her studies centered around English literature and creative writing while she continued studying piano privately. LTU did not have a music department.

Eventually, Ann-Marie applied as a transfer student to the Piano Performance program at Oakland University, where she studied with the Brazilian virtuoso Flavio Varani. She was seventeen at the time.

The music curriculum's repertoire requirements took Ann-Marie by surprise: "Flavio wanted me to play Beethoven concertos and Mozart sonatas. I wanted to play Puccini. How was I supposed to know I wasn't normal?"

One day, Ann-Marie attended a vocal studio class, where all the voice students would sing for each other and receive feedback from the voice faculty. Ann-Marie experienced an epiphany. She discovered that she already knew a great deal about vocal repertoire, and that she was just as equipped to sing as the students who had declared voice as their major. "These kids were singing 'Amarilli' and 'Selve amiche', songs I was already playing. But they didn't understand the messages of these songs, the texts... I wanted to be up there expressing it for real," Ann-Marie remembers.

Ann-Marie enrolled in the preliminary voice class and heard terms like "breath support" and "soft palate" for the first time. She couldn't get enough. "I loved that it was something you could hone and improve, and that there were people there to help you," she recalls.

Operatic bass James Patterson provided not just the tools of vocal expression, but also encouragement when Ann-Marie needed it the most. "I think the rest of the faculty thought, 'what's she doing? I thought she was a pianist!' But Jim could see that opera was my real dream, and he knew I could get there."


When she began singing, Ann-Marie had a large voice with a medium range and rich timbre, and her high range had yet to develop. Since bigger voices often require more time to reveal their true potential, Jim hesitated to put Ann-Marie into a category too soon, so he assigned Ann-Marie contralto and mezzo rep like Dido's lament and "Che faro senza Euridice," along with a healthy dose of early Italian songs, French chansons and German lieder. She picked up the texts with ease, drawing on a vocabulary of sounds she learned speaking Danish as a child.

When Jim's career path drew him away from Oakland University, distinguished mezzo/contralto Candace De Lattre stepped in and became Ann-Marie's mentor. Not only was De Lattre an expert on vocal teachnique, but she also heard Ann-Marie's voice as being similar to her own, and the similarities didn't stop there. Candance was also an astute and intelligent woman with a sensitive approach to operatic repertoire. Ann-Marie received her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance under Candace's tutelage. On her bachelor recital, Ann-Marie performed lieder by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, chansons by Gabriel Fauré, arias by Handel and Ponchielli, as well as Saint-Säens beloved "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalilá.

After graduation, Ann-Marie was accepted to study in the master's program at the prestigious Eastman School of Music, where she performed the pivotal role of Mrs. MacLean in Carlilse Floyd's Susannah, a cornerstone of the American mezzo repertoire. Ann-Marie's teacher at Eastman was dramatic coloratura Rita Shane, a singer who saw a new path for Ann-Marie. She assigned Ann-Marie the aria "Porgi amor" from Le Nozze di Figaro. Ann-Marie was so excited to get through the aria that she cried. She had given up hope of ever singing soprano.

Little by little, Ann-Marie learned new ways to access her upper register, which was starting to blossom. The path was wrought with doubt and frustration. Around this time, Ann-Marie experienced a major personal crises, losing her father to multiple myeloma. "I dropped out of Eastman and took a year off," the soprano explains.

After a brief respite, Ann-Marie was accepted to the master's program at the University of Michigan School of Music, an equally prestigious institution much closer to home. There she studied with former Metropolitan Opera star George Shirley, a teacher who valued language as much as music. Ann-Marie continued to chip away at the soprano repertoire and finally felt that things were starting to work.

In 2007, Ann-Marie and her mother Inge-Lise moved to Århus, Denmark, the town where Inge-Lise grew up. Ann-Marie established herself quickly, giving numerous concerts and singing as an assistant in the Danish National Opera Chorus. She began taking lessons with the American mezzo Armeen Dichtchekenian Rasmussen, a celebrated singer from the German stage now based in Denmark. "Armeen really helped me make the transition to professional singer," Ann-Marie expains, adding that she counts the years she has spent in Denmark as her most formative.

While in Denmark, Ann-Marie was selected to participate in a master class with Barbara Hendricks in Trollhättan, Sweden. Only eight singers from around the world were accepted. Ann-Marie also participated in master classes given by Bo Skovhus, Roger Vignoles and Ryland Davies.

In the spring of 2012, Ann-Marie performed the title role in Verdi's La Traviata with Operakompagniet in Birkerød, a town located just north of Copenhagen. Ann-Marie describes Violetta as a dream role, and a chance to bring all of her training together: "I used every part of my voice to portray Violetta's journey, from the high and light to the deep and sorrowful. I had to pull out all the stops, and my past as a mezzo really helped."

Today Ann-Marie's repertoire includes several of the roles she admired as a teenager. Her time spent studying arias on the playground and playing entire operas on the piano still benefits her. "This music is really a part of me."

Ann-Marie enjoys singing Mimí and Liu most of all, but Tosca is still in the distant future. "Sooner or later I will sing Tosca," Ann-Marie asserts, remembering the little girl learning "Visse d'arte" on the playground: "I've been preparing for it all my life."