A Student’s Journey from Science to Opera

November 24, 2008 by · Comments Off 

By Kamille Carlisle

Singing was always something Dee Donasco liked to do. She sang in her church choir for fun but science and math was what she was serious about, what she was good at.

Donasco majored in biology and minored in chemistry at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and planned to study medicine in graduate school. She never imagined she would end up studying opera at SMU, but could not be more pleased with the result.

Hank Hammett, director of opera at SMU, had a former student teaching in Corpus Christi who had heard Donasco sing and felt she had great potential.

“She was telling me “you have an amazing voice, you should really go into singing.’ I didn’t even know how to read music,” Donasco said. “I thought she was crazy.”

When Hammett heard about Donasco’s exceptional talent, he was one of the first to begin working privately with her while she was still at A&M.

“I could tell there was something very special about her,” Hammett said. “It wasn’t a surprise when she started having success.”

Donasco progressed quickly in her music reading skills and vocal technique and was soon entering competitions. She won second place in the Dallas Opera’s 2007 competition, and first place in the San Antonio Opera competition. Excelling vocally with ease led her to also major in music. She began to reconsider her graduate school plans.

“I realized music was my passion but I never thought I could get a job being an opera singer,” said Donasco. “But I was drawn to it, and made the decision to put myself out there and see what happened.”

Hammett and Dale Dietert, visiting assistant professor, encouraged her to audition for Meadows’ opera program at and she received a full scholarship.

“We told her we would do anything to help,” Hammett said. “We are thrilled to have her and it’s an honor to help teach an enormously talented young lady.”

Donasco said she also feels honored to be a part of the program.

“The faculty has been so supportive. They are like my family,” she said. “I’m very lucky.”

Originally from the Philippines, 25-year-old Donasco came with her parents to the United States. when she was 13. Before arriving to America, her family lived modestly. She remembers having to wear one pair of shoes for years before being able to get new ones. They ate vegetables from her grandmother’s garden and never encountered a McDonald’s.

“When we first moved here, I think I weighed about 80 pounds. I probably gained 25 pounds in the first month,” Donasco said.

Her parents settled in Corpus Christi but family life was turbulent. Her father eventually moved back to the Philippines and Donasco was living on her own before graduating from high school.

“I ended up having to do things on my own but that has made me a very determined person.”

Though she does not have familial support, Donasco now has a caring husband. She married her high school sweetheart in May.

“He knows it’s hard in the music field but he’s very understanding and supportive about what I’m doing, because it’s something I love,” Donasco said.

Donasco, a member of the SMU Choral, recently performed a solo in their performance of Bach’s Magnificat, which she referred to as “fantastic.” Since opera was born in Venice, Donasco learned Italian and speaks it fluently, as well as Filipino and Spanish. She is now beginning to specialize in the art of opera singing.

Pamela Elrod, the director of Choral activities, has great faith in Donasco’s potential. “She’s destined for stardom,” Elrod said. “She is going to be a great success. I have no doubt.”

Donasco hopes to make a living as an opera singer when she graduates. “I may not make much money for a while,” she said. “That’s the life of a musician. You just never know.”

Hammett, like Elrod, has faith in Donasco’s future. “She’s meant to do something. When you’re meant to do something, it will happen.”