Local singer's business merges comedy, opera

By Johnny Jackson


Hampton resident, Susan Nicely, has been singing a new tune around town lately.

The classically trained, professional opera singer is embarking on a career move that will place her in league with professional comedians. She said she has created her own business in comical, operatic singing telegrams.

"The idea came to me right around December of last year," said Nicely. "I wasn't getting as many contracts [to sing opera] as I'm used to getting."

Nicely said the recent downturn in the economy has negatively impacted her career, slashing the number of opera house contracts she would receive in a typical year from eight to four.

"Opera companies all over the United States have had to cut back on the number of productions they do per year," she said. "Corporate sponsorships are less now."

Looking for a way to fill in the gaps between opera performances, she said, she decided on April 2 to officially launch her new business, Opera Diva Gram.

Nicely is used to performing in formal opera houses around the globe. However, this summer, the mezzo soprano will be performing comical numbers in front of office staff, executives, and party goers around metro Atlanta. She said she is planning to provide her vocal services to those wanting her unique style of singing telegram.

"It's a unique way to do something memorable other than sending a gift basket or bouquet of flowers," said Nicely, adding that her new business has gotten a warm reception.

Nicely sang an Opera Diva Gram during Henry Medical Center's 30th Anniversary Gala and Garden Party, held on May 1. Then, she introduced one of her flamboyant alter-egos, "Ivana Bratwurst," the proud daughter of Viking-blooded parents, she said.

She became interested in opera as a teenager in high school, and was able to turn that interest into a 25-year professional career.

"I was 14 years old in my high school choir," she recalled. "My choir teacher took me aside one day -- I was having trouble blending into the crowd, because my voice was so loud."

Nicely's choir teacher encouraged her, then, to pursue singing opera. Nicely said she rejected the suggestion, preferring her first career choice in becoming an FBI agent.

"I sort of have a flare for the dramatic, and I appealed to the idea of catching the bad guys," she said. That is, until she was able to see her first opera.

"She [her choir teacher] took the entire choir on a field trip to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to see the opera, 'Tosca,'" Nicely said. "It's a big dramatic opera, and there was this lady on the stage who was rather large and dripping with diamonds and jewels ... that's what really lit my enthusiasm and piqued my interest."

Nicely said she talked to her parents about her newfound interest, and they helped provide her with private lessons. She later studied voice performance as an undergraduate student at Shorter College in Rome, and at Florida State University as a graduate student.

She sings professionally now in opera productions around the world.

"There are fans of opera in every stripe of life," Nicely added. "I've been fortunate and had a very successful career. I am still singing professionally, but I have big breaks in between that I didn't have before."

Nicely said her flat-rate fees for personal appearances are $95. She also provides musical phone messages for $35, through Opera Diva Gram, at www.operadivagram.com.

"I'm enjoying this so much," she said. "I'm going to keep doing it, no matter what condition the economy is in."