Nansteel enjoying a successful music career

Deborah Nansteel has made it to the bigtime.

The New York Times said her debut last week with the New York Philharmonic, “had a decorous presence and an emotive vibrato.”

Nansteel, a mezzo-soprano who has now performed coast-to-coast with some of the most prestigious opera companies, remains humble about her string of successes.

“Well, I have been getting some work,” the 2002 Havelock High School graduate said.

To hear Nansteel talk about this “work,” one would think they were speaking with the likes of Leontyne Price or Beverly Sills.

“I just did my New York Philharmonic debut, which was totally unexpected, but it was so much fun. I did my Santa Fe Opera debut this summer,” Nansteel said. “I also sang in the second cast, one of the leading mezzo roles, in Semele with the Seattle Opera in February and March. I’m going to be making my Chicago Opera debut this winter, so I’m very excited about what’s on the horizon.”

Nansteel relished her opportunity to sing with the New York Philharmonic.

“Just singing at Lincoln Center was such a huge deal. It was not something that I was expecting,” Nansteel said. “It was absolutely amazing. I was like a kid in a candy store. It was so much fun. I had great colleagues that I was singing with and the pressure was definitely on since I was a last-minute replacement but everybody was so encouraging and supportive. The conductor was fantastic, very friendly. I could not have asked for anything more.

“I think I did well. I got good reviews and everyone said I sounded great. It went very smoothly so I’m very happy about it. It’s pretty big. I’m pretty excited.”

Nansteel, who lives in Washington, D.C., is the daughter of Tamera and Gerard Nansteel, who live in the MacDonald Downs subdivision of Havelock. Two of her sisters, Candace and Tabitha Nansteel, still live here and a brother, Gabriel, lives in Raleigh.

“We moved there in 1995,” the singer said. “My dad retired from the Marine Corps there. My whole family is such a great source or support for me. Even when I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to stay on this path or venture into something else in undergrad, they were very supportive of every decision that I made and they encouraged me to follow what I thought was best and follow my heart and to really make sure that I’m happy with what I was doing. They are all about making decisions so that we’re happy as people. That’s all they want for us no matter what that may be. I love that about my family, especially my parents.”

At Havelock High, she was in the choral program and sang as part of the jazz band.

“She’s just come such a long way and she was such a talent in high school,” said Missy Murphy, the choral teacher at Havelock High. “I just knew she could do great things. She could do jazz. She could do any style of music.”

Nansteel points to Murphy as making a huge impact on her life.

“I honestly have to give most of the credit to Missy Murphy,” Nansteel said. “She was the one that suggested that I even try to do a music major in college before I even knew that you could get a degree in music. This whole thing started because she saw something in me that nobody else knew to cultivate and I really, really appreciate her guidance and support. She helped me through some interesting times my senior year of high school and I cannot thank her enough for everything. She taught me how to read music. She taught me initially how to sing. I owe everything to her.”

Murphy said Nansteel had a phenomenal voice even at a young age.

“We started talking about her future and I said ‘Well you need to think about doing music.’ And once she got to be a senior, I helped her through the audition process, through schools and got her connected with East Carolina and she just took off,” Murphy said. “I’m just thrilled with how much she’s accomplished. I’m very honored that she gave me so much recognition, but she did a lot of hard work herself. I’m just glad I was there to guide her in that direction.”

Nansteel earned two bachelor’s degrees at ECU, one in classical voice and one in jazz studies. She graduated in 2007 but stuck around another year to fine-tune her technique with additional voice lessons before going to graduate school at the University of Cincinnati-Conservatory of Music.

True to form, Nansteel works full days beginning with a workout shortly after 7 a.m. and singing an hour or more to maintain staple arias for auditions.

“It depends on the day, sometimes about an hour, sometimes for a lot longer than that. It also depends on what I’m working on,” Nansteel said. “I also learn music for whatever role I’m working on for the next job. And it’s not always just singing. I sit down and sometimes I work on translations for four hours along with singing and practicing. And I try to work on Italian language study every day for an hour. I also have to learn the actual notes of the role that I am doing.”

She advises aspiring singers that there is not one single route to a successful singing career.

“Everybody has a different path, so you can’t compare yourself to any other singer that’s out there,” she said. “Really make sure you love it and that you want this lifestyle. It can be tough. You have to be economical. You have to be able to budget your money. You have to be able to save money and really have your priorities together. If you find that you don’t want the lifestyle or you are unhappy in some way or it’s not as fulfilling, it’s OK to not sing anymore. It’s OK to do something else that is more fulfilling, that you are completely happy with, whether it’s being a doctor or being a secretary, or a bus driver, engineer or whatever it is. You just have to figure out if this is the right thing for you to do, just like any other career.”

The pathway to stardom is fraught with highs and lows, she said.

“It’s tough. You get a lot of ridicule, but you also get praise when it’s due and you work really hard,” Nansteel said. “Hopefully things will come out of that hard work. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. There is a lot to take into consideration.”

To hear her sing and to learn more about her career, go online to www.uzanartists.com/portfolio/deborah-nansteel/.