John and Gail Carpenter, known as The Singing Sweethearts, have been singing together for more than 50 years with opera companies, with symphonies and in concert. After moving from Colorado Springs to Mankato in August 2016 to be near their son Chris and his family, the Carpenters soon became active in the Mankato area music community. They have performed in two theater productions and participated in the choirs of two churches. In 2017, they took part in the Twin Rivers Arts Council annual fundraiser.
In the concerts they have performed in Mankato, the Carpenters have offered a mix of selections from classical music to Broadway tunes. In one recent concert, they sang German lieder written by Schubert, French love songs written by Debussy and other composers, a selection of opera arias and duets, and folk music from Napoli (Naples) in the south of Italy. Gail performed a solo from Phantom of the Opera, Wishing You Were Here Again, and the couple sang a duet, All I Ask of You, also from Phantom.
“Our goal is to sing music that people will enjoy, even sing along,” Gail said. “That’s why we sang in Antonio’s Restaurant in Colorado Springs every Sunday for 15 years. We performed opera favorites, Neapolitan music, Broadway show tunes and requests. People began to love classical music, and they began to sing along.”
The Carpenters introduced a cultural practice from the 19th century to musical artists in Colorado Springs and in Mankato–home concerts called Schubertiades. Here, they have hosted two Schubertiades and are planning another. John explained, “A Schubertiade was named for its originator, the German composer Franz Schubert. He went to people’s homes, and singers came to people’s homes, and they shared their art–like a progressive dinner.”
“We hire an accompanist, David Fienen, and serve food, wine and coffee,” Gail said. “We request a freewill donation or sell tickets. This time, we plan to give half of the proceeds to survivors of the recent fires in California.”
The couple, both 73, have a long history of performing as soloists with opera companies, with symphonies and in concert. The companies with which they have performed include the Shreveport Opera, the Miami Beach Symphony, the Jersey Lyric Opera (which they founded), the Metropolitan Opera Singers in New York, and Sadlers Wells in London. In addition to the Jersey Lyric Opera Company in Westfield, New Jersey, they founded the Rocky Mountain Opera Company in Woodland Park/Monument, Colorado, where they presented a full performance of Othello, with full orchestra, professional soloists and a chorus.
Both John and Gail have a multi-faceted music education and a list of honors and awards too lengthy to print. John received a full scholarship to Juilliard. Gail won the Jersey State Opera Young Artist Award and a full scholarship to Denver University for vocal music. In 1976, John won the Metropolitan Opera Competition and the first Richard Tucker Award, as well as a five-year contract to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. During those years, Gail performed with other musical groups, observed the opera performance from backstage, or gave free tickets to acquaintances to attend the Met with her.
While in New York, the Carpenters also were guest artists at Asti’s Restaurant (made famous in the movie Big), being offered free dinners for themselves and as many guests as they wished to invite to performances.
Both John and Gail have a nearly endless list of major opera roles they have sung. Gail’s include Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme, Micaela and Mercedes in Bizet’s Carmen, Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore and the Flower Maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal, as well as many others.
Some of the 23 major operatic roles John’s tenor voice has brought to life are Faust in Gounod’s Faust, Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata, Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth and Alfred in Johan Strauss’ Die Fledermaus.
In addition to singing together (and separately) for a half century, the Carpenters recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They met as students in 1968 at Indiana University, where, Gail said, “We were attending the largest music school in the world. I saw John first at a concert, and I thought he was very gifted, very smart and very cute. I liked his smile.”
John recalled, “I saw Gail in the hallways of the music building and sitting in the lounge.” One day, he walked over to where she sat and began a conversation. They were married the same year, just before John joined the Air Force, where he became a tenor soloist for the U.S. Air Force Band and the Singing Sergeants.
John, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, was not drawn to opera as a child. He said, “I knew I wanted to do something with music, but my father listened to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast on Saturday afternoon, and it sounded like screaming to me. My views changed when I was 15 or 16, when I realized that my father, a businessman, enjoyed the music. My mother was a piano teacher, and even when I was a child, when I heard someone miss a note I could tell what the note should be.”
Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, Gail never had doubts about music being her calling. She said, “I think I knew from the time I was born. Music was in my heart, even though my parents didn’t like classical music. We listened to music from South Pacific. I had ancestors who sang in vaudeville, opera and in the movies.
“I delight in singing to bring joy to the audience in opera, Broadway and concert,” she said. “I enjoy the challenge and creativity inherent in bringing a character to life through the nuances of voice, style, music and emotion.”
John, who has taught voice and piano to students from kindergarten through college, said, “I strive to instill in each student an understanding of the diversity of musical components and how they affect performance. Music is truly miraculous, and I believe it can change the lives of students.”
Between performances, the Singing Sweethearts enjoy spending time with their son, Chris, a Mankato attorney, his wife, Carma, and the couple’s five daughters. John said their other son, Allen, “is singing in heaven.”
“Allen was a singer and a composer,” John explained. “We have a copy of his only professional demo. At some point, I’ll publish his songs.” The Carpenters plan to found a scholarship for the study and performance of jazz music in Allen’s honor.