by OLIVIA DORFMAN
Growing up, opera singer Amanda Biggs traveled with her family of Pentecostal praise and worship church musicians. When they weren’t on the road, parents, grandparents, and children lived in a one-bedroom trailer in Bridgeport, Illinois. “Food insecurity, money insecurity—we ate government cheese and peanut butter,” Biggs, 41, recalls.
In 1995, the family moved to Spencer, Indiana, where Biggs started her senior year at Owen Valley High School. After graduation—she was the first in her family to earn a high school diploma—she directed a church gospel choir for four years. “Black gospel, like the Mississippi Mass Choir,” she explains. Then she discovered opera. “I saw Carmen at Indiana University and my heart shattered,” she says. “I was in disbelief. The human voice could make this sound?”
After beginning a romantic relationship with a woman she’d met at church, Biggs moved to Kentucky, where her partner was earning a doctoral degree. Encouraged to enter college herself, she auditioned at Western Kentucky University, received a full scholarship, and met Elizabeth Volkman, who trained her spinto voice (a type of lyric soprano). “She’s as dear to me as my grandmother,” Biggs says. “She said I had been her prize student, and donated a large portion of her musical library to me.”
After a brief foray in the New York City opera world, Biggs returned to Bloomington and began performing locally and teaching. “I’ve had over a hundred students in the past eight years,” she notes.
“The last decade I call the quiet years,” Biggs says. “I stepped away from pursuing opera and had my family.” She has two sons, Max, 5, and Miles, 3 1/2. “In order to perform there has to be a balance,” Biggs explains. “The ebb is part of the flow.”
Biggs says when she turned 40, she decided to relaunch her opera career. In May, she performed at Carnegie Hall as a finalist in a New York Lyric Opera competition. In June, she represented the United States at the Nicola Martinucci International Voice Competition in Lucca, Italy. And she continues to set the bar high. “I’ve never gone to the Met,” Biggs says, “I’ve told myself, ‘You’re going to go there when you walk in the back door, as a performer.’”