University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 6, No. 1/1996
Energetic diva brings athletic prowess to operatic roles

     A celebrated and world-famous soprano, Kristine Ciesinski is
known for the panache and energy she brings to her roles. Forget
the stereotypical operatic heroine with her formidable, unmoving
presence. In her roles, Ciesinski, Delaware '74, is an active
performer. She has climbed ladders, wowed audiences as Salome
with her seductive dance of the seven veils and played Lady
Macbeth on a tilted bed 21 feet above the stage. "The lady was
over the edge, and I, literally, was over the edge of the bed,"
she says.
     "I give a physical performance and like to surprise the
audience, which is my specialty. In opera, this is known as 'the
day of the directors.' They demand singers who look the part, are
able to act and are flexible," she says.
     Comparing her to a stereotypical Wagnerian opera singer is
like comparing an apple to an orange, she says. "They have full,
chocolately voices, and Wagner's operas are long and have
unusually large, thick orchestration," Ciesinski says. "So,
singers cannot really move around much and still be able to
project text over the carpet of sound." Her voice tends to be
more clear, bell-like and incisive.
     She confesses to preferring the roles of "psychologically
interesting women," such as Salome, Medea or the lead in
Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, who leaves a trail of
corpses in pursuit of her lover. One magazine dubbed Ciesinski
the "Wicked Lady of Opera."
     Off stage, Ciesinski enjoys mountain climbing, ice cave
spelunking, white-water rafting, paragliding, skiing and other
activities not usually associated with an opera diva. She and her
husband, baritone Norman Bailey, have moved their home from
London to Idaho, near the Grand Tetons and a famed music
festival. When not on the road, they can still be a part of the
musical world, while participating in the outdoor activities they
both enjoy.
     Her athletic prowess may be inherited. Her father, Ray
Ciesinski, Delaware '49, was a football player on the
University's Cigar Bowl team and then "moved across the street"
to become athletic director at Newark High School, serving for 35
     Growing up in Newark, Del., and attending Newark High
School, where she played basketball and hockey, Ciesinski says
she never dreamed of becoming an opera singer or that her life
would turn out the way it has. She did enjoy music, following in
the footsteps of her older sister, Katherine, who has become an
equally well-known opera singer.
     Both learned to play the piano from a neighbor and when a
voice teacher moved into the neighborhood, they took lessons.
They also studied ballet and tap dancing. As a teenager,
Ciesinski began performing folk music with a group and singing
church solos, while learning to play the French horn, the cello
and percussion instruments.
     When she graduated from high school, she thought seriously
of becoming a teacher, following in the footsteps of her father
and mother, the late Kay Hansen Ciesinski. Although she studied
music education at Temple University, she was encouraged there to
become a vocal performer.
     Ciesinski enrolled in 1972 at the University of Delaware to
study with Joe Huszti, who headed the voice program at the time.
Two years later, she followed her teacher when he moved to Boston
     After graduation, she studied in Washington, D.C., with Todd
Duncan, who played the original Porgy in Porgy and Bess. To
support herself, she led exercise classes and cleaned lavatories
and showers in a health club. She also sang in the opera chorus
at the Kennedy Center and landed some roles with local operas,
such as Madame Butterfly with a Baltimore opera company.
     Ciesinski's career took off in 1977. She was encouraged to
enter the Geneva International Competition and she won. She also
won the Salzburg International Opera Competition and a
scholarship to the Salzburg Mozarteum.
     "As my husband put it, after 10 years of training and hard
work, I was an overnight success," she says.
     Acquiring an agent, she began singing at opera houses in
Europe and the world, including the Bolshoi in Russia, La Scala
in Milan and the Opera de Bastille in Paris.
     "Europe's opera tradition differs from the United States,"
she says. "In Germany, there are many opera houses within a
relatively small area, and families traditionally attend the
opera regularly."
     Her family is in the forefront of her most loyal fans. "It
was thrilling to see her on posters all over Paris and to watch
her perform. We traveled to China, Taiwan and Japan as well as
Europe," her father says.
     Being an opera singer is a multifaceted profession,
Ciesinski says. Of necessity, she is a linguist. Tall and lithe,
she also works at remaining fit. Preparing for a new role takes
months of intensive work, not only learning the music and lyrics,
but acting and dancing as well.
     Because she travels extensively, Ciesinski is grateful for e-
mail to keep track of her friends and complicated finances, which
involve payments in several currencies.
     She most enjoys singing with her sister. The two had roles
in the southwest premier of Dominick Argento's Dream of Valentino
in Dallas in 1995 and presented a sold-out concert dedicated to
their mother in the Performing Arts Series at the University in
                                           -Sue Swyers Moncure