Houston soprano Chasiti Lashay
Photo: Courtesy of the Texas Medical Center Orchestra
Moments of hesitation and self-proclaimed stubbornness recur often in the story of Chasiti Lashay’s journey to the professional scene, but time and time again her voice has prevailed.
The Houston native grew up participating in the choir at Paradise Missionary Baptist Church, where her grandfather, the late Rev. Robert Kelley, often called on his cousin to sing before preaching.
Even then, Lashay did not know he saw his potential, the same potential his choir teachers at both Pin Oak Middle School and Lamar High School would recognize a few years later. As his mother told him recently, he was just waiting for her to release his instrument.
She did, and on March 6, the 29-year-old soprano will join the Texas Medical Center Orchestra onstage at the Hobby Center to perform as the featured soloist in “Celebrating Resilience,” an evening inspired by the collective trauma of the past two years.
In preparing the program, founder and artistic director Libi Lebel sought the opinion of her musicians to determine the works that served as their strength in the turmoil. In addition to Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, she has selected Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer 1915”, a prose poem by James Agee.
When: 5:00 p.m. March 6
Or: Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby St.
Details: $25; www.tmcorchestra.org
The evocative masterpiece more than fits the bill, also allowing it to spotlight an emerging local artist from an underrepresented community. After much research, she found what she was looking for in Lashay – a sentimental vocal style that complements the work’s timeless emotion and, in line with the program’s theme, a story of resilience.
After graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a postgraduate degree in the spring of 2020, Lashay was set to become a resident artist at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. When those plans were derailed by the pandemic, she found herself returning to Houston instead. She has since performed at East Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in addition to her touring and virtual work. Even still, this weekend will mark something of a homecoming.
“I realized when I got home, I sang for so many people, but I never sang for my people,” she said. “It’s a place that made me who I am, and it really informs my artistry, so I feel like it’s all coming full circle. Singing a piece about nostalgia in the place where I grew up, and my family is going to be in the audience, it’s significant.
Prior to college, Lashay maintained her involvement in classical music largely through the persistent encouragement of those around her. It wasn’t until her first year as an accounting major at Tuskegee University, however, that a nagging sense of unfulfillment prompted her to change the trajectory of her life. She graduated with a business administration degree in 2014 with her eyes set on a career in music, a decision that was met with the approval of her mother, who happily said, “I told you so. “
Carefully following the advice of his choir director, Lashay attended a summer program in Pisa, Italy, where a local teacher asked him to learn “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s “Norma.” She didn’t know what opera was yet, but with a quick YouTube search she discovered a video of the legendary Montserrat Caballé performing the aria, and she was hooked.
It was the first of two European trips that would change Lashay’s life. Two years later, during a month-long program in Lucca, she befriended a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, who helped her work through issues regarding her ability to pursue higher education without a bachelor’s degree in music. Long story short, she was admitted to the private school in California, where she found a guide in the famous professor César Ulloa.
Although a late bloomer in her field, Lashay has made her presence known, recently appearing with companies like Chautauqua Opera and Opera Grand Rapids, being named a finalist in the Dallas Opera National Vocal Competition, accepting a residency with the Sparrow Live streaming platform and of course, in collaboration with the Texas Medical Center Orchestra.
Sharing the community mindset of the ensemble, Lashay aspires above all to be influential in the diversification of opera and to increase exposure to the art form in minority communities. With this performance, she will take a step closer to her goal, while sharing a piece that speaks to a season in life that many will identify with.
“This concert is to celebrate us as people and as a community,” Lebel said. “When we celebrate our personal resilience, we allow our spirit to heal, and we need that healing now more than ever.”
Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.