The Style & Sound of Opera Singer Alyson Cambridge
If the opera brings to mind old ladies with milkmaid braids and viking helmets, think again. No one better exemplifies the stylish and modern opera diva like Alyson Cambridge, currently lead soprano in the Washington Opera’s production of Show Boat, May 4-26 at The Kennedy Center. I got the chance to talk to Alyson on the phone and ask her about her music, her fashion and how one gets to be a style icon.
Fashion and music
DC on Heels: Which came first for you, your love of fashion or your love of music? Or did one lead into the other?
Alyson Cambridge: As a child, people always said that I was a theatrical person, and I guess that extended to my music and fashion sense. I had to wear uniforms through eighth grade, so I was ecstatic when I went to Sidwell Friends for high school and wasn’t confined by the uniform anymore. Even when I was younger, I could never wear the plain brown tie up shoes with my uniform — I was the first one in my school to get Doc Martens!
I started singing and playing the piano very early, around 4, and taking voice lessons when I was 12. As I evolved as a singer, an artist and a person, I developed my own sense of style. Even at rehearsal, I still get made fun of for wearing high heels to rehearsal, but I really believe that if you feel good on the outside, that enhances your mood. So I try to wear things that reflect me.
DCOH: When it comes to stage wear and concerts, do you work with a stylist or do you get to choose what you wear yourself?
AC: When it comes to doing an opera, the costumes are made for us by the designers. But definitely for a solo concert with a symphony or recital, I choose what I wear. I take a lot of care with what I wear, I don’t just throw on any black dress and say I’m formal! I really try to wear something that reflects what I’m singing. There are a couple go-to designers that I love, because I know how their pieces fit my body. I really like pieces with structure. I try not to go overboard with glitter and things, I would rather accessorize with statement jewelry!
Shopping in D.C.
DCOH: Based on that and these photos, I’d be happy raiding your closet! What are some of your favorite places in D.C. to get your shopping fix?
AC: Well in New York, it’s all about the individual boutiques, but in D.C. I love the malls! Lord and Taylor has some great gowns, but I love Saks and Neiman Marcus. The Galleria in Tyson’s Corner? Yeah. I could spend the whole day there. I also love vintage! There’s a great vintage shop right near where we rehearse in Takoma Park. I’ve found some great pieces there. I love vintage because it’s one of a kind! I love mixing some modern pieces with vintage finds.
DCOH: What’s your go-to outfit for a day in the city? Are you a skirt and heels girl all the time? If you were going museum-hopping and for lunch, what would you wear?
AC: Probably something like what I’m wearing today, is a go to for me! Dark wash skinny jeans, a bright green flowy top from a little boutique in New York, a long, silver multi-chain necklace, nude heels and a crop nude leather jacket. And I’ve got my big curly hair today, instead of straight hair, and a fuschia lip! I like to keep it chic, with a little pop of color, maybe one statement jewelry piece. When I’m around my house, I’ll maybe throw on sweats, but when I go out, I like to look pulled together!
If it’s a low key day, you’ll find me religiously in my Lululemon!
A dream job
DCOH: How did you come to be an ambassador for Chopard and Monika Chiang? Did they approach you? I know a lot of us who have the fantasy of a designer asking us to wear their pieces!
AC: With Chopard I was introduced to them by somebody I used to work with as an up and coming American opera singer. They had previously worked with another older opera singer, a European singer, who was huge in Europe. They thought to bring me on as a new, hipper face, to see what I could maybe bring to the brand. I came in for an interview and met with their head of PR and told them about some events I had coming up, and they wanted to start working together. I get to wear amazing jewelry, and they get some press out of it as well! They loan me incredible pieces for my concerts, photo shoots and red carpet events. I love it, because costume jewelry is great, but there’s nothing like wearing the real thing, and these are one of a kind pieces.
Monika Chiang was a funny story — I was literally at a party for a colleague and somebody asked me what I do, and I told them I was a singer. He asked me if I was familiar with Monika Chiang and let me know they were looking for brand ambassadors, and he thought I would look great in their stuff.
Of course later when I tried to call the boutique, they didn’t know who he was! I was mortified! But they passed my name on to Nick Steele, the head of PR. I got to meet him and the head designer, and we played dress-up! It was so fun. They lent me a gorgeous long leather skirt and white blouse that I wore on the red carpet for the Red Cross gala. Her stuff is so much my personal style, I could probably wear Monika Chiang four or five days a week!
DCOH: My last question I’ll ask is one from me, a D.C. native who loves the theater, the ballet and the opera. Not everyone dresses formally for the theater anymore — what are your thoughts on appropriate attire for attending a performance?
AC: Out of respect for the performers, it’s nice to get out of your jeans and t-shirt and put on something special. They’re going to show their craft to you. I think they’re making the effort, and as the audience so should you. I think the dress code has lightened up considerably. At the opera, you’re not going to see tie and tails or tuxes every night, but opening night and opening season galas are a good time to bring out your best! I don’t have a problem with a suit, just a jacket and slacks and a nice shirt. I think ladies don’t have to wear dresses, some fashionable pants and a really nice top, a pant suit. I have a white pant suit I love, it’s chic and modern! It’s about pulling it all together and taking the time to look nice.
Make sure to pull out your finest for a night at the opera with Alyson and the Washington National Opera in Show Boat, starting May 4 at the Kennedy Center. Many thanks to Alyson and her crew!
Health editor, Tini Howard is a writer, aerialist and foodie from the East Coast.