Milagros Cruz only had to see one opera to know what she wanted to do with her life.
In her first semester at Syracuse University, she was required to attend “Otello” for a music history class.
“We went and I loved it,” Cruz said. “I ran to my dorm room and called my father: ‘Papi, I know what I want to do with my life!’ ”
Seven years later, Cruz is following that dream. This summer, she will return to the Seagle Music Colony, a music training program for young artists. Tonight and Thursday, Cruz will perform classical works and musical theater to help raise the $3,500 tuition. So far, she has raised $1,135.
Seagle, in upstate New York, was where Cruz performed her first operatic role — Little Red Riding Hood — at age 19. It was also there that she first was pointed toward MU, when Seagle’s director introduced her to Eric Dillner, then director of MU’s Show-Me Opera. Cruz, a soprano, is finishing her master’s degree in vocal performance at MU.
Now Cruz will return to Seagle to continue her professional preparation.
“It’s one of the best vocal training programs in the U.S.,” she said.
The middle of three children, Cruz was born in 1978 in Manhattan, to immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
“Ever since I could speak, I was singing,” she said.
Cruz attended the Academy of Music at Bayside High School in Queens, where she was exposed to classical music and a little opera. However, it wasn’t until she went to college at Syracuse that she saw the fateful performance of “Otello.”
That performance cemented her love for opera, a love she would like to spread. As part of her work last year with the Shreveport (La.) Opera, Cruz did educational outreach opera, performing for schoolchildren. She would like to see those efforts duplicated in Columbia.
“We would ask the kids if they knew what opera was, and they would say, ‘It’s where the fat lady sings and you can’t understand her,’ ” Cruz said. “Educational outreach is a great way to expose kids to opera.”
Before working in Shreveport, Cruz did her master’s work at MU, serving as a graduate assistant for both the opera and the vocal department. She singled out Jo Ella Todd of the vocal department for praise, saying what a great teacher and mentor Todd was.
Todd called Cruz a charming singer: “She has a lot of personality when she sings.”
Cruz’s time in Columbia yielded an unexpected bonus: a husband. She first met Michael Campbell the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Campbell, a grant writer and doctoral candidate, asked Cruz to lunch for information on a grant he was writing for the opera.
“It wasn’t so much a business lunch,” Cruz recalled.
Campbell became her first boyfriend. Three months after they met, they were engaged. They married in 2003 in a “Cajun wedding” in Louisiana.
Now Cruz is focusing on her career. After attending Seagle this summer, she will turn her attention to auditions in the fall.
“I just want to do what I love for a living — a mix of performing and teaching,” Cruz said. “I don’t ask to be famous. I just want to pay bills and put food on the table doing what I love.”