TRAVERSE CITY — Sage DeAgro-Ruopp has a vision. Just 13, she is on a mission.
A freshman this fall at Interlochen Arts Academy, DeAgro-Ruopp has her sights set on an opera career. Specifically, singing one day with The Metropolitan Opera, the premier company based in New York.
A scholarship to Interlochen will launch the next phase of her training this fall as a voice major. To raise additional funds to attend the prestigious school, DeAgro-Ruopp released a CD, "It Takes a Village to Raise a Diva." She will perform songs from it at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 14, at the First Congregational Church. Admission is free and the CD, which features nine songs, is available for a donation.
Gifted with both talent and an intense drive, DeAgro-Ruopp has been captivated by opera since she watched a simulcast of a Met performance of "Hansel and Gretel" three years ago. Already a veteran performer, that evening transformed her goal from being a musical theater star on Broadway to the even more demanding genre of opera.
"I was blown out of my mind," DeAgro-Ruopp said of that pivotal evening at the State Theatre, which she left determined to one day be Gretel. "It wasn't something that happened over a long period of time, it was an overnight thing."
Interlochen followed by college or a conservatory are the necessary steps and DeAgro-Ruopp will continue to give up a typical teen life. Her busy schedule over the past four years allowed little time for mall trips, hours of hanging out.
Instead she practices, takes classes, studies and practices some more. Since she was nine, her life has been about whatever it takes to sing, to learn and grow as a performer. She looks forward to being at Interlochen, surrounded by like-minded arts students.
"When I sing, I just forget everything else and just become transported in a song," she said. "Usually I imagine myself singing for someone I really, really admire."
DeAgro-Ruopp does try to lure friends into listening to opera, which to most is as foreign as Martian.
"Nobody listens to it, I try to get my friends to come and listen," she said. "The people I've taken, open-minded people, have liked it."
A student at the Woodland School from fourth through eighth grades, DeAgro-Ruopp has studied both in school and privately with Marilyn Tilley, the school's theater production and choir teacher. DeAgro-Ruopp landed the title role in "Annie" her first year and began nurturing her Broadway dream.
Guiding an active program at the school, which presents three productions a year, Tilley initially turned down DeAgro-Ruopp's request for private lessons. DeAgro-Ruopp was just starting fourth grade and well younger than private pupils she accepted.
Tilley suggested two things in the interim: study ballet and learn to play the piano.
"She already was a great actress because she'd done so many things at the (Old Town) Playhouse," Tilley said. "It's important to do all those other things that you must do when you're young, dance and piano, even if you have to put voice off a few years."
Her parents, Amy Ruopp and Michael DeAgro, made the necessary arrangements. A dedicated student determined to pursue additional voice training, DeAgro-Ruopp immersed herself and expanded her artistic repertoire. In addition to these lessons and her school performances, DeAgro-Ruopp also participated in programs at the Traverse City Children's Theater and Northwestern Michigan College's Children's Choir.
By the next summer, DeAgro-Ruopp's maturity and drive convinced Tilley to accept her as a private student even though she was not quite 10 years old. Four years later, Tilley will miss her young prodigy but knows DeAgro-Ruopp is going to the right place at the right time.
"She's just totally inspiring, she's been a great student," Tilley said.
DeAgro-Ruopp also was admitted to and received a scholarship for the University of Michigan's Vocal Arts Institute. She will attend this two-week summer intensive later this month despite the program usually not accepting freshman. Her family had to advocate for an audition but the results were worth it.
"I sent in a couple of my recorded songs and they liked it, I guess," said DeAgro-Ruopp, with characteristic understatement. "What I'm happy about is that I'll be with a lot of young people who will be very serious about singing."
To listen to Sage DeAgro-Ruopp online, go to www.record-eagle.com/herald.