The children's chorus at the Met is chock-full of talented kids, and, not surprisingly, many of them grow up and go on to pursue musical professions. In our first of many profiles, we meet Bryan Zaros, who spent six years with the Met as a youngster, and learned many important lessons that would serve him well in his future musical career.
by Sara Heaton
All of us have, most likely, pulled an all-nighter at some point in our lives. For the former Met Children’s Chorus member Bryan Zaros, his first was as a twelve-year-old. “I had to work very hard to make up the work I missed [due to Met rehearsals and performances]. I remember I had some reading assignment, I had to write an essay, it was due the next day. My parents were like, alright we’re going to bed. You need to finish this... I did my first all nighter.” Juggling the rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule along with school responsibilities is a huge commitment for these youngsters.
But was it worth it? Bryan thinks so. “The more I participated in the opera, the more I fell in love with it.”
In fact, his six years in the Children’s Chorus set him on the path to dedicate his life to music. Soon after joining the Met chorus and discovering his love for singing, he joined the Church of the Transfiguration Choir of Men & Boys, and built an impressive career as a boy soprano. Bryan is now an up-and-coming conductor and has been the Associate Choirmaster at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine since 2016. He was just recently appointed Music Director of the Pro Arte Chorale, and is finishing his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting at the Manhattan School of Music.
As a nine-year-old boy, however, he never would have imagined this path for himself. His mother dragged him to the Children’s Chorus audition. She heard Itzak Perlman on a radio interview talk about his daughter’s involvement in the chorus, and latched onto the idea for her own children, Bryan and his younger sister. Though he had been studying piano and percussion, the idea of singing in a chorus was much less appealing than soccer and baseball.
Much to his surprise, the audition itself is what sealed the deal. Elena Doria had him sing “Happy Birthday” in several different keys, did some vocal warm ups with him, and spoke a bit about vocal and breathing technique. He loved it, and was asked to join right away. His sister joined later that year.
Thus began his family’s life at the Met. His parents attended every rehearsal and performance they were involved in. They would often get tickets for the kids’ teachers and bring them on backstage tours so they could appreciate the significance and importance of the commitment (and understand why they were missing so much school!). Bryan got to know the ushers, the security guards, and the musical staff, and still is in touch with many of them who continue to work there. He still knows the building like the back of his hand due to mid-show “shenanigans” of hide-and-seek.
Some favorite memories of his time there were the interactions with the principal singers. He would visit with Pavarotti in his dressing room; Domingo played quarters with the kids in the cafeteria; and once Roberto Alagna gave a bouquet of flowers to his sister.
Even more entrenched in his memory are the life lessons of professionalism and discipline that he learned on his very first day of rehearsal as a super in Rusalka. “I wasn’t aware of the discipline and decorum in rehearsal. I was talking up a storm, I had no idea. Elena ran up to me and kicked me out of the opera.” It was a mistake he never made again.
“The Met experience built in me that professional standard, the love of doing something really well, and I think the habit of working really hard and not going to sleep until it’s done. I learned those skills really, really early on. It has to be your best, you really deserve to give it your best.”
He sang and performed in countless operas during his six-year tenure, many of the classics such as Carmen, Tosca, and La Bohème. Also memorable were the less often performed works such as Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The children were dressed as fairies in tutu costumes and had to dip their fingers in red paint to imply the fairies’ berry-eating habits. “The paint would never come off. I’d have to go to school the next day and explain to everybody why I had red hands.” In Eugene Onegin, the last opera he performed on the Met stage, he and his sister were featured waltzing together around the stage. “I remember taking my look out, [and thinking] this is the last time I’m going to see it from here. I remember that being very special, and it was neat to end [my Met career] with my younger sister.”
Though his musical focus has shifted from opera to liturgical choral music, his Met experience as a kid set the foundation for a life in music, and will always stay with him. “I think it was the captivating experience of being at the Met that just proved to me how powerful music was and how inspiring it was, and meaningful, and that it was worth committing my life to.”
Sara Heaton began her Met career in 2014 in the Extra Chorus, and joined as a full time member in 2016. When not singing, Sara enjoys cooking, gardening, exploring the outdoors, and tasting her husband’s cocktail creations. They’re proud to make their home in Beacon, NY in the beautiful Hudson Valley.