Earning a Bachelor of Music Degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she received the Outstanding Achievement in Opera Award for two years from the opera department and was the winner of the San Francisco Conservatory's Voice Concerto Competition. Ms. McNairy has participated in masterclasses with Deborah Voigt, Marilyn Horne, Warren Jones, Martin Katz, Lenore Rosenberg, Willie Anthony Waters, Barbara Hocher, John Churchwell, Bruce Ford, and Wolfgang Brendel.
Ms. McNairy was born and raised in Austin, Texas where she enjoyed eating breakfast tacos, riding horses, and swimming in lakes around the Hill Country. She fell in love with opera at age eight when she began singing with Austin Opera's children's chorus and later, their regular chorus while in high school. She is now based in Berlin and continues her studies with Abbie Furmansky.
Updated May 19th, 2022
Die Sängerinnen müssen mehrere Partien spielen und singen und taten das ausnahmlos alle wunderbar...Ebenso herrlich beglückte Emma McNairy mit beeindruckendem Sopran. Bemerkungswert virtuos und souverän gelang ihre Arie als Vertraute der Braut Montezumas.
- Das Opernglas
Ms. McNairy has participated in the Junges Stuttgarter Bach Ensemble of the International Bachakademie Stuttgart singing Bach's Matthäus Passion in the role of Uxor Pilati on tour in Germany and Chile under the baton of Helmuth Rilling. A multi-faceted performer, she was given the opportunity to combine her love of movement, early music, and collaborative theater in the four-month-long Dutch tour of MonteverdISH as Poppea with Silbersee (formerly VocaalLAB) and breakdance company, ISH, in venues including Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw.
Ms. McNairy was among the first-ever Western singers to learn and perform in Mandarin as a lyric language in the iSing! International Young Artist Festival. While in China, she made her debut at both the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing and the Tianjin Concert Hall with the China National Symphony Orchestra. She made her Carnegie Hall debut in recital with Hao Jiang Tian, also with the iSing! Festival.
Also, as a young artist, Ms. McNairy joined Music Academy of the West in 2013 and 2014 under the tutelage of Marilyn Horne and Warren Jones, where she sang Frasquita in Carmen under the baton of James Gaffigan. She was also chosen to take part in The Song Continues in Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall as a part of Marilyn Horne's 80th birthday celebration. She has also participated in Opera New Jersey's Victoria J. Mastrobuono Emerging Artist Program.
Ms. McNairy received Second Prize in the James Toland Vocal Arts Competition (Tier 1) as well as Second Prize in the 7. Internationale Lions Gesangswettbewerbe of the Gut Immling Opernfestival. She won First Prize in Berkeley Piano Club's Dorothy Van Waynen Voice Competition, the Ben DeBolt Memorial Award in the Holt Scholarship Competition, First Prize in the Burlingame Music Club Competition, Second Prize in the East Bay Opera League Scholarship Award Competition, First Prize in Art Song and Second Prize in Musical Theater in the San Francisco Bay Area NATS Competition, Third Prize in the Franco-American Vocal Academy's National Grand Concours de Chant, and was a finalist in the Brava! Opera Competition.
"Only once, maybe twice, in twenty years of attending operas have I seen a singer so perfectly matched to a role. McNairy's alluring soprano had no problem tackling the intricacies of Berg's thorny score, or filling the cavernous Oakland Train Station where the production took place ... Displaying an acrobatic and physical agility rarely seen in opera singers, McNairy's physical and vocal presence owns the stage long before she rises from an onstage bath and stands nude before the audience, toweling herself off in a meta display of Lulu's power, and her own."
- A Beast in the Jungle
Ms. McNairy made a splash in the San Francisco Bay Area directly out of her undergraduate degree in 2011 as Zerbinetta with West Edge Opera in Ariadne auf Naxos. She made her international debut the same season with Opera Siam (formerly Bangkok Opera) as the Temple Dancer in Somtow Sucharitkul's Mae Naak where she then reprised the role in London.
With West Edge Opera, she continued singing leading roles including Poppea in L'incoronazione di Poppea across from Christine Brandes, the title role in Rossini's Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra, the Maid in the highly acclaimed production of Adès's Powder Her Face, and Ophélie in Hamlet, where she was praised for the "beauty and elegance" of her singing and for having a "radiant instrument with a secure high extension" (Opera News.)
Other appearances include Elvira in L'italiana in Algeri, Clorinda in La Cenerentola, and Lucia (cover) in Lucia di Lammermoor with Livermore Valley Opera. Ms. McNairy has also sung Monica in The Medium and Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Cinnabar Opera, and in Oregon, she performed Lucy in The Telephone and Laetitia in The Old Maid and the Thief with Brava! Opera Theater.
An avid lover of chamber music, new music, and early music, Ms. McNairy has enjoyed collaborating with Cantata Profana Ensemble at Symphony Space in New York City, where she sang Webern's 3 Lieder für Sopran, Klarinette, und Gitarre, Op. 18, and Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. She has sung with Friction Quartet in San Francisco, singing the hidden voice part in Berg's Lyric Suite. In concert, she has been heard in Texas with Chorus Austin in Mozart's Requiem and Handel's Dixit Dominus, and in California with the San Jose Symphonic Choir in Carmina Burana.
"It falls to the soprano to bridge that gap -- to uncover the gleaming sensuality that lies just below the surface of Berg's twelve-tone musical language -- and McNairy did that flawlessly. She caressed and cajoled the notes until they shimmered; she unleashed potent, high-flying bursts of fine-tuned melody, then dropped into conversational stretches of pointed eloquence.
And in a superb bit of theatrical jujitsu, McNairy took the physical degredations of the assignment and turned them back onto the world. Director Elkhanah Pulitzer was merciless in what she required of McNairy, from complete onstage nudity to extravagantly detailed simulations of sex, and from each one McNairy emerged even more dignified and assured."
- The San Francisco Chronicle
American soprano, Emma McNairy, critically acclaimed for her performance as the title role in Berg's Lulu with West Edge Opera, was praised by San Francisco Classical Voice as being the “sexiest and most vocally agile Lulu imaginable”, while The Financial Times lauded her for having "combined physical allure, arching, silvery soprano, and superior German." For her portrayal of Lulu, she was nominated alongside Susan Graham for "Best Opera Performer" of San Francisco's 2014-2015 season by San Francisco Classical Voice.
For the 2021-2022 season, Ms. McNairy is thrilled to be joining Staatstheater Kassel, where she will sing Ännchen in Der Freischütz, Elvire in the rarely performed La Muette de Portici by Auber, and a Liederabend with Giulia Glennon featuring female composers. She also performed Pierrot Lunaire at the Bucharest National Opera under the baton of Iosif Prunner with the Constantin Silvestri Ensemble in March.
Other recent guest engagements include the title role of Haydn's Armida with Victory Hall Opera in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2019, and her Lincoln Center debut with the Mostly Mozart Festival in Bernstein's Mass under the baton of Louis Langrée in 2018.
A member of the ensemble at Theater Lübeck from 2016/2017 - 2020, Ms. McNairy sang a wide-range of roles including Graun's Montezuma as Erissena, Madeleine de Faublas in Ball im Savoy, Dede in A Quiet Place, the title role in Richard van Schoor's world premiere of L'Européenne, Sophie in Werther, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, the Contessa di Folleville in Il Viaggio a Reims, Mary in Der Ferne Klang, Dalinda in Ariodante, Street Chorus in Bernstein's Mass, Clorinda in Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Donna Anna (cover) in Don Giovanni.
Other recent guest appearances include Zerbinetta at Stadttheater Gießen, Contessa di Folleville at Oper Kiel, and Clorinda (cover) in La Cenerentola at Volkstheater Rostock. She also made her debut in Hamburg's Laeiszhalle singing Carmina Burana with the Philharmonisches Orchester der Hansestadt Lübeck.