'Believe in the Work:' Award-Winning Opera Singer Phillip Lopez Returns to Millikin for Artist Residency

Lopez was named the 2022 Millikin Young Alumnus Award.

Phillip Lopez

DECATUR, Ill. – Before Millikin University alum and award-winning opera singer Phillip Lopez ’16 returned to perform at Albert Taylor Theatre in February, he was sure to pay tribute to an essential Millikin tradition. 

As the story goes, ghosts haunt the University’s famed main stage, built in 1903. To ensure that a performer's time in the spotlight goes off without a stumble on stage or some forgotten words, an offering of three pieces of candy must be made to the Albert Taylor Theatre spirits.  

“I wanted to pay special tribute to that because I think people paid tribute to it while I was here. I'm back after a long time, and I'm happy to do it again. I never had any real (ghost) experiences, but some of my friends did,” Lopez said. “I was thrilled to return to Albert Taylor Theatre as it has always been the venue for our operatic productions from 2012 to 2016. I have fond memories of long rehearsal nights and performances in four productions spanning the vocal music genre from J.S. Bach’s ‘Sacred and Secular Cantatas’ to Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicchi.’”

Phillip Lopez
Millikin alum Phillip Lopez (right) performs "Opera Valentine."

Lopez returned to the Albert Taylor Theatre, joining the Millikin Opera Theatre, on Feb. 9 for an evening of love, song, and drama in a performance titled “Opera Valentine.” The showcase included many opera classics selected by Lopez and was the culmination of an Artist in Residency week with students in the School of Music. 

“This week has been great. I've met so many students, and a lot of them are first-year students. I like the idea that you're starting out coming into Millikin and being able to interface with alumni almost immediately into your first year,” Lopez said. “I didn't have anything like that when I was a freshman, and so it does make a big difference to be able to put a face with a name and see somebody's work and the type of life they've had after they finished at Millikin.”

Since graduating in 2016, Lopez has built an impressive resume of awards and memorable performances on the stage. He holds two Master’s Degrees – one in Opera Performance from Wichita State University and a second in Opera from Yale University -- and was honored with the 2022 Millikin Young Alumnus Award. As a bass-baritone on the stage, Lopez won the 2023-24 Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition (Iowa District), an award designed to discover promising young opera singers and assist in developing their careers. 

Phillip Lopez

Lopez brought that expertise to a masterclass he led with School of Music students, as well as individual coaching sessions on how to prepare to take the stage and giving suggestions on student performances. 

Lopez, originally from Avon, Ill., came to Millikin in part to be able to further his education while continuing to enjoy a small-town campus experience. 

“I was lucky I had really great educators and collaborators that I was working with in high school that expected a lot out of me, and I tried to rise to the occasion as much as I possibly could,” he said. “Then I got into Millikin, and I had two really great voice teachers – Dr. Matthew Leese and Terry Stone – who let me make my own decisions about things. They encouraged me to have my own ideas. If you have those sorts of encouraging professors for years of your college experience, those are people that you'll remember for the rest of your life.”

Phillip Lopez

This spring, Lopez will make his role premiere of Dr. Bartolo in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” for Opera Louisiane in Baton Rouge, La. in May and will join the Des Moines Metro Opera Apprentice Program for its summer season, where he will play roles in “The Barber of Seville” and Richard Strauss's “Salome.” 

“The life of a musician is often extremely collaborative towards the end of a product, but before that, you have to spend a lot of time developing your own ideas about things by yourself,” Lopez said. “Millikin taught me to believe in the work that I do in a solitary sort of experience. I spent a lot of time at Millikin just honing my craft and I want to thank Director of the School of Music Brian Justison and Terry Stone for believing in me to to the Artist in Residency, and I just want to give back to Millikin as much as I possibly can.”