Video: Opera's power still resonates, says music professor

By Melissa Beattie-Moss
April 10, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Mezzo soprano Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber's personal journey has included some dramatic highs and lows worthy of an opera, the art form to which she has dedicated her life.

Raised on the expansive prairies of a Saskatchewan cattle ranch, Cutsforth-Huber is now an assistant professor of music at Penn State Altoona. She discovered her passion for singing at a very young age, when her Scottish-born grandfather would teach her folk songs as they rode his lawnmower. She recalled that his singing voice was untrained but "one of the purest and most beautiful tenors I've heard to this day," and it inspired her to pursue music as her life's path.

After earning bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in vocal performance and musicology, she built an active career in oratorio, cantata and operatic circuits. She won critical acclaim for such roles as Dalila in Saint-Saens's "Samson et Dalila," Marcellina in Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" and the title role in Bizet's "Carmen."

However, Cutsforth-Huber was plagued by mysterious symptoms -- including tongue tautness, breathing difficulties and back spasms -- that created chronic problems for her singing technique. Only when she was referred to a neurologist did an MRI reveal the source of the problem, a rare birth defect of the brain called Chiari Malformation that affects the cerebellum and can lead to paralysis. In 2007, she underwent lifesaving brain surgery, followed by arduous physical therapy.

Today Cutsforth-Huber is fully recovered and her performing career is in full swing. In April 2012 she sang her Carnegie Hall debut as the alto soloist in Mozart's Requiem with the New York City Chamber Orchestra, and this year she will be a featured artist in Austria's prestigious Salzburg Voice Festival. Equally as important to her is "passing on knowledge to the next generation" as a teacher at the Altoona campus. She also speaks publically about her health challenge and recovery, serving as a source of hope and inspiration for other singers facing similar struggles.

Get better acquainted with Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber in this video interview as she describes how she got her start as a singer, her belief in opera's relevance today and the lessons she learned through her personal experience.

Last Updated July 28, 2017