A lifelong passion for music led world-renowned opera singer, Kristin Lewis ’99, on a journey to transform her love for the arts into a foundation that allowed her to give back. Created in 2014, the Kristin Lewis Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides financial awards to young singers with talents in opera performance.
When passion collides with talent, greatness is born. Internationally renowned opera singer Kristin Lewis ’99 came from a very musically-oriented family, and she attributes that to her love of her craft.
“Everyone in my life was musically inclined, [but] I was never thinking as a child that I would pursue it as a career choice,” said Lewis. “It actually wasn’t until I went to the University of Central Arkansas, where I started as an English major with the intention of going to law school, I discovered that, though that was interesting, it was not my true passion. I went through this soul searching period and discovered that my passion was music.”
Once she discovered the path she was meant to travel, Lewis began her vocal studies under the tutelage of Dr. Martha Antolik. Lewis credits her time at UCA for laying down the foundation for what was next to come.
“I’m very grateful to those people who supported me along my journey, especially here in Arkansas when I was in undergraduate school,” Lewis said. “When it became clear that this is what I wanted to do, there were so many people- people in my church and people at UCA- who believed in me, encouraged me and supported me, and that made the biggest difference. It made me believe in myself.”
Blessed with an amazing gift of vocal talent, Lewis traveled all over Europe, performing in nearly every major opera house there, including the Vienna Staatsoper, L’Opéra de Paris and the Berlin State Opera. During the fall of 2016, she will debut the role of Bess in “Porgy and Bess” at La Scala in Milan, Italy.
“I’ve never taken any experience I’ve had for granted, so every production I’ve ever received was viewed with that same amount of passion and gusto as the very first one,” said Lewis. “I’ve been very fortunate in that the experiences have always increased. Large opera companies began to offer me things, and every time, it was ‘the moment’ for me.”
Lewis not only has a passion for music but a heart for service as well. In 2014, she started the Kristin Lewis Foundation to benefit and shine a spotlight on emerging, talented musicians.
“It started as a really simple idea,” said Lewis. “Two years ago I came home for a visit and met a neighbor’s son who was just graduating from high school and was so passionate about pursuing a career in performance. After the conversation, I realized he didn’t need help financially, but then I started thinking about those singers who don’t have financial help. I thought, ‘I can help a singer. I can do that!’”
What began as a small notion soon blossomed into a big idea. Lewis planned to give one or two scholarships every year, but the longer she thought about it, the more excited she became.
“I just thought, ‘Why one or two? Why not more?’ I started thinking about it and talking to family and friends, and everybody was so encouraging,” said Lewis. “And then I thought, ‘Let’s give scholarships away! Not just one or two! Let’s just see how many scholarships we can come up with!’ And it just kept growing from there.”
Soon, Lewis realized she could not personally give scholarships to as many people as she had hoped, so she started fundraising. Then, Lewis decided she needed a platform from which to fundraise, so she decided to start her own foundation. Now, the Kristin Lewis Foundation is so much more than a scholarship fund. The Foundation puts on concerts, holds master classes and continues to grow every day.
“When I thought I wanted to go to law school, it was because I wanted to fight for people. I thought I might want to be a teacher to touch the lives of children. I wanted to be a psychiatrist to help people,” said Lewis. “Every avenue had a theme of service, and now I’m touching lots of people’s lives in performances and my foundation is helping people, so it’s been a consistent theme in my life that I’m actually quite proud of.”
Lewis has found her calling and knows in her heart that music is a universal language that every person can speak. She believes that it isn’t necessarily the music itself but is instead the emotions that the music evokes while one truly listens.
“Music is the expression of how we feel. I have listened to pieces and remarked afterwards, ‘Wow, that’s what love feels like!’ The genius of so many opera composers is that they capture what an emotion sounds like,” Lewis said. “Singing is a spiritual experience for me and I totally believe the gift is from God. I’ve been fortunate to experience so many things, but having the opportunity to have a spiritually and emotionally fulfilling career in itself is a great thing.”
Performed by Kristin Lewis
Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Maestro Bruno Bartoletti
Orchestra: Orchestra Pistoiese Promusica
The piece is entitled “Sensa Mamma.” It is from the opera Suor Angelica, a second in the trio of operas called “Il Trittico.” “It was sung during a concert in Prato, Italy, in celebration of the life and work of the composer,” said Lewis.