Caitlin Chisham Profile 1_color.jpg

Earning $20,000 in scholarships, DHS grad Caitlin Chisham will take the next steps in her opera career at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Caitlin Chisham, 18, was a freshman performing opera at the 2017 National Association of Teachers of Singing Central Region student auditions when her pianist forgot to turn back the page in her music and repeat a verse, but she wasn’t flustered.

“I didn’t think; I did,” Chisham said. “I hold the reins; that’s what a singer typically does.”

She knew her timing and lyrics and forged ahead. The pianist caught up, and she won anyway in Category IIIA: High School Women.

That confidence and focus was earned over years of study, as Chisham has been smitten with opera since age 9, when she watched “La Bohème” for the first time at home. Both her parents, Daniel and Kristin Chisham, are music teachers and have encouraged her passion ever since.

Her next performance will be with the Wichita Grand Opera at 8 p.m. July 3 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church soccer field. She will be singing two songs: the aria “O mio babbino caro,” from the opera “Gianni Schicchi,” by Giacomo Puccini and the American song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

“Music to me is like a language, like Harry Potter understood the snake language, Parseltongue,” Chisham said. “My opera brain turns on.”

She’s been taking voice lessons since age 10, and has now been studying for the past two years with Dr. Cristina Castaldi, Assistant Professor of Voice at Wichita State University School of Music.

“When I heard Caitlin I knew she had an extraordinary work ethic. She goes beyond the surface,” Castaldi said of her student. “I think she eats, sleeps and drinks it. She’s smart, she’s real.”

Chisham graduated Derby High School early in January 2021 and will begin fall classes at University of Cincinnati-Cincinnati Conservatory of Music as a vocal performance major come August 23.

She won $20,000 in scholarships by her audition, split between three: Cincinnati Century Scholar Scholarship, $2,000; Cinnatus Out-of-State Scholarship, $3,000; and the Ethel Ward Boeckh Scholarship, $15,000.

“I’m excited to go to a program that I need,” Chisham said.

She credits her success with learning to be her own teacher and really studying each piece of music. Playing piano helps as well. Typically, Chisham rehearses 1.5 hours five days a week, but that’s not only singing. It also includes memorizing and translating lyrics, as opera is often in foreign languages.

Currently she works two part-time jobs: a hostess at Mosley Street Melodrama for two years and the Soprano Section Leader with Hillside Christian Church since March 2020.

She chose not to audition at schools in New York City because she knows that she is not ready to make that transition yet and would prefer to stay closer to home, though she is open to moving there in the future.

Her goals include performing at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and in Germany and Italy.

Castaldi supports Chisham’s decision to stay local because, “as far as the world is concerned, she has plenty of time. She knows I’ll always be there for her.”

Mother Kristin Chisham remembers how early Caitlin loved the genre.

“When she was a baby, I would go around and sing opera arias. She would be crying bloody murder and then smile and laugh, listen and respond to it,” she said.

As she got older, Kristin said she would sing and Caitlin would match her.

She urges other parents of artistic children to support their dreams, rather than dismissing it.

“Give them opportunities to find out if that’s what they want to do,” Kristin said. “When Caitlin told us she wants to go into opera, we didn’t laugh.”

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