Erin McCarthy always had a big voice, but it wasn’t quite big enough until recently.

McCarthy will kick off the 2014 Spoken Word Series at the Walters Cultural Arts Center with her talk about the mysterious and glamorous life of an opera singer Tuesday, Jan. 21.

“Women go through a couple of voice changes,” said McCarthy, who after more than a decade and a half of singing professionally is transitioning out of singing lyrical soprano pieces and into dramatic soprano roles — a boundary her physical abilities kept her hovering over for many years. “I had to be extremely patient, and have a long-term view of my career.”

Now she’s starting over from scratch, singing a bigger repertoire and in the Wagnerian style.

McCarthy, a Sandy native who’s been spirited all over the world by opera, started taking voice lessons in high school and continued her study of music at Portland State University and later the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Even though she had always loved classical music, McCarthy didn’t know what she was getting into when she entered the opera world her first year in college. “I had never seen an opera until I was in one,” McCarthy said. So she didn’t know “opera singers are often seen as movie stars,” expected to have a star quality presence, glamour, physical appearance and fashion sense.

But McCarthy was hooked on storytelling through song right away, and the “profound effect it can have on people,” she said.

Her career has not been without its hiccups. McCarthy decided to quit her singing career twice. At the event Tuesday, McCarthy will share what made her start up again.

While studying music in Europe, McCarthy had been questioning whether she was dedicating her life to an outdated, out-of-touch, indulgent art form. But a few things happened to make her realize “classical music is as relevant today as it was when it was written, and it’s an incredible experience you can share with other people,” which she’ll explain in more detail at her talk.

With a recent widespread interest in music resurging — which McCarthy partially credits to television shows such as American Idol, X Factor and The Voice — she’s seen opera rise out of the economic recession and become more popular as well.

Now an active equestrian who lives in Newberg with her husband, a software engineer, McCarthy has started offering private voice lessons. Visit her website at

The talk will start at 7 p.m. at 527 E. Main St. in Hillsboro. McCarthy will also share a live piano performance and an aria.

The Walters Spoken Word series provides an opportunity for audiences to hear free engaging lectures and presentations on topics ranging from ghost hunting and history to storytelling and outdoor adventures, and take place the third Tuesday of every month. For more information, call 503-615-3485.

The event is sponsored by Tuality Healthcare, Larkspur Landing, Amelia’s Restaurant and Claeys Catering.

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