SANDUSKY – For Kirsten Kunkle, singing has always been at the center of her life.
She grew up in Fremont and started taking voice lessons at age 12 in Toledo.
There she saw her first opera, “Faust”, at the Toledo Opera House and witnessed the heights of what the human voice could do.
“I was blown away,” Kunkle said.
Her singing career blossomed, with Kunkle, a citizen of the Mvskoke (Creek) Native American Nation, considered the leading Native American soprano in the classical music world.
Later this month, Kunkle will bring her passion for music to a historic event, when she performs at the 150th anniversary celebration of Yellowstone National Park.
In Yellowstone, Kunkle will create an art song, “Reclaim the Land,” for soprano and piano that she was commissioned to write for the event.
She said the song focuses on the relationship between Indigenous people and Yellowstone.
Michael Sakir of Intermountain Opera Bozeman will perform these pieces with Kunkle in the Yellowstone Mountains on August 24-25.
Additionally, Kunkle will sing “Anna’s Moon Aria” by Scott Bradley Joiner, based on part of the story “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
She said she premiered the tune at Minton’s Harlem in December 2021 and was thrilled to bring it to a new audience.
This historic event is part of the All Nations Tipi Village portion of “Yellowstone Revealed”.
According to Mountain Time Arts, a nonprofit public art group based in Bozeman, Montana, Yellowstone Revealed is a series of place-based projects by a cross-tribal group of Indigenous artists and scholars.
The first works of art will premiere in Yellowstone National Park later this month.
The upcoming Yellowstone Revealed Public Artworks are non-invasive, temporary projects designed to demonstrate the historic and continuing presence of Indigenous peoples in the Yellowstone area.
The multidisciplinary artworks coincide and respond to the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park and will seek to bring Indigenous truths and perspectives to the fore.
Kunkle said Yellowstone Revealed, the Teepee Village, and the 150th Anniversary represent a coming together of Native American peoples.
“They really want to bring the native cultures back to what Yellowstone is,” Kunkle said.
A resident of Sandusky, Kunkle grew up doing community theater with the Wethington family in Fremont.
She currently co-directs an opera company in Wilmington, Delaware; is an independent classical singer; and singing teacher.
Kunkle was featured as composer and soloist for the Circle of Resilience concert, performing with Intermountain Opera Bozeman in May 2021.
She began to sing at a very young age for her mother, who was a pianist and former ballerina.
Kunkel said she performed in her first opera when she was 13 in Michigan.
She sang in the Fremont Ross High School choir and show choir and performed at the Fremont Community Theater.
But Kunkle said he found his voice was best suited for classical singing.
At Bowling Green State University, Kunkle studied vocal performance. She earned an undergraduate degree from BGSU, studied at the University of Salzburg, and earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
Kunkle said she taught at colleges, including briefly at Terra State Community College, and took what she described as an unconventional path for an opera singer.
“It’s just been a wild ride,” Kunkle said.
Kunkle’s recordings are held at the Library of Congress, the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution (NMAI), and the Merkel Area Museum in Merkel, Texas.
She is on the Smithsonian Institution’s NMAI List of Native American Classical Artists and Musicians and Molto Native Music’s List of Performers.
At the Yellowstone performance, Kunkle will be joined by her self-proclaimed “opera niece,” Cherokee mezzo-soprano Kate Morton.
“I want to emphasize that this is such a historic event,” Kunkle said.
Kunkle said she was thrilled to perform with Morton as two classical singers bringing their love of music to Yellowstone.
His performances will take place outdoors at the Madison Junction Campgrounds in West Yellowstone, Kunkle said.