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Inland Northwest Opera’s Melody Chang Heaton adds role of Asian Opera Alliance executive director to her slate

Nov. 2, 2022 Updated Sun., Nov. 6, 2022 at 2:41 p.m.

Between studying classical voice and working behind the scenes at local and national performing arts organizations, Melody Chang Heaton has learned there’s often more than one way to fulfill your passions.

After playing double bass in her high school orchestra, several opportunities at Washington State University turned her in the direction of vocal performance. While there, she auditioned for an opera workshop and won a spot.

“I’d never really sung before that,” she said. “I don’t know what possessed me to try … but when I got to college, I was like, ‘What the heck, might as well try singing.’

“I auditioned for the workshop my first semester there, and then, of course, that just ruined my life and I had to go into opera.”

She loved learning the material and getting up on stage. But she knew the lifestyle of a full-time, traveling opera singer wasn’t for her.

“I just wanted to be around singers,” she said.

So, after graduating, Heaton applied for a job at Best of Broadway working as a ticketing coordinator.

“I immediately fell absolutely head over heels in love with arts administration,” she said. “There was no looking back.”

She was surprised early on at how few of her administrative colleagues had ever worked on stage and vice versa. The lack of crossover can easily lead to disconnects. But Heaton has found that her experience on both sides has allowed her to bridge the gap.

Especially now, working as marketing director for Inland Northwest Opera, Heaton enjoys interacting with performers and seeing the fruits of her work.

“The singers know that they have a safe place to go to talk … because I understand, I’ve been in the rehearsal rooms and I’m still an active performer now,” she said.

In 2021, Heaton started a scholarship for first-generation students who are Black, Indigenous or people of color in music and theater programs. The Chang Heaton Scholarship for Music Excellence gives unrestricted funds to five students for repertoire, books, character shoes, recital dresses and other items scholarships might not otherwise cover. Applications for the 2023 school year are now open.

Since graduating, Heaton has continued to perform with several local arts organizations including Spokane Valley Summer Theatre, Spokane Ensemble Theater and Spokane Symphony Chorale. But the bulk of her energy goes to supporting and advocating for the work of other performers.

Between Inland Northwest Opera and rehearsals for various local productions, Heaton continues to seek out means of advocating for singers in other areas.

“This is something that is close to my heart, so I make time,” she said.

The same year, Heaton reached out to the board of the Asian Opera Alliance. Founded by and for Asian-identified vocalists and other industry professionals, the Asian Opera Alliance advocates for equitable representation in the opera world. So far, the AOA has officially consulted with Dallas Opera House on a production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” and projects with other companies are still in the works.

“We don’t see very many Asian opera singers on stage,” Heaton said, adding this is especially true in leading roles. “The lack of representation was really bugging me … I wanted to get involved, so I reached out to them … to lend my skills as much as I could.”

Heaton began volunteering her time with the AOA as vice president, but in October, she took on the role of executive director.

Heaton looks forward to her work with AOA and Inland Northwest Opera as she continues to advocate for fellow performers on and off stage.

“I have such a genuine appreciation for everything it takes for a singer to be onstage,” she said. “The sheer magnitude of athleticism it takes to sing … I just love getting to advocate for artists, making sure that they are understood.”

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