Soprano Joélle Harvey prefers the concert stage to the opera setting

Unlike other classical-music vocalists, Joélle Harvey has largely concentrated on serving as a soloist for orchestral and choral concerts in works such as Handel’s Messiah or Mahler’s Second Symphony.

The American soprano has appeared with such prestigious groups as the Cleveland Orchestra, Handel and Haydn Society in Boston and Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City. “It’s kind of how my career developed and also just how I wanted it to once I had a taste of both,” said Harvey, who join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Orff’s Carmina burana in concerts March 16-18. “I really enjoy doing opera, but it takes you away from home.” 

While a symphony engagement might mean a week of rehearsals and performances, an opera production can require a singer to be on site for four to 12 weeks, depending on the work and the company. After her daughter, now 7 years old, was born, Harvey realized that she wanted to be apart from her as little as possible. “I love being a mom,” she said. “I’m very hands-on.”

That said, she has not given up opera altogether. Harvey recently performedi as Aristea in Pergolesi’s L’Olimpiade at Zürich Opera, and she has other roles in upcoming seasons scheduled at the Metropolitan Opera and Royal Opera House.

As a child, Harvey began taking voice and piano lessons. Her parents saw them as a way to foster a general love of music, but the youngster quickly developed aspirations of being a performer. “I wanted to be Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway,” she said. “That was my dream for long time.” Later, she realized that her voice and her personality were more suited to classical music.

She went on to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in vocal performance from the respected University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. In 2007, after finishing her undergraduate studies, she was a member of Glimmerglass Opera’s Young American Artists Program, performing the role of Cupid in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld and covering soprano Lisa Saffer in Philip Glass’ Orphée.

She got job offers after her summer there, so she was sometimes away from school for engagements while she was finishing her graduate degree. “That gave me the hope I could do it full time after school,” Harvey said. “Prior to the pandemic, I’ve been very, very fortunate that I haven’t had to have any side jobs. It’s just sustained me the way I needed it to.”

A version of this article appeared previously on Experience CSO.