SANDUSKY — For Kirsten Kunkle, singing has always been a focal point in her life.
She grew up in Fremont and began taking voice lessons at 12 in Toledo.
There, she saw her first opera, “Faust,” at the Toledo Opera and witnessed the heights of what the human voice could do.
“I was just blown away,” Kunkle said.
Her singing career has flourished, 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, as she performs at Yellowstone National Park’s 150th Anniversary celebration.
At Yellowstone, Kunkle will be premiering 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 peoples and Yellowstone.
Michael Sakir of Intermountain Opera Bozeman will be premiering these pieces with Kunkle by the mountains of Yellowstone on Aug. 24 and 25.
Additionally, Kunkle will be singing Scott Bradley Joiner’s “Anna’s Moon Aria,” based on a portion of the “Killers of the Flower Moon” story.
She said she premiered this aria at Minton’s Harlem in December 2021 and is delighted to bring it to a new audience.
This historic event is part of the All Nations Teepee Village part of “Yellowstone Revealed.”
According to Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman, Montana, based nonprofit public arts group, Yellowstone Revealed is a series of place-based projects by an inter-tribal group of Indigenous artists and scholars.
The first few artworks will premiere in Yellowstone National Park later this month.
Yellowstone Revealed’s upcoming public artworks are non-invasive, temporary projects designed to demonstrate the historic and continued presence of Indigenous people in the Yellowstone region.
The multidisciplinary artworks coincide with and respond to Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary and will seek to put forward Indigenous truths and perspectives.
Kunkle said Yellowstone Revealed, the Teepee Village and the 150th anniversary represent a bringing together of Native American people.
“They really want to bring back native cultures into what Yellowstone is,” Kunkle said.
A resident of Sandusky, Kunkle grew up doing community theater with the Wethington family in Fremont.
She currently co-runs an opera company in Wilmington, Delaware; is a freelance classical singer; and voice teacher.
Kunkle was featured as a composer and soloist for the Circle of Resilience concert, performing with Intermountain Opera Bozeman in May 2021.
She started out at a young age singing for her mother, who was a pianist and a former ballerina.
Kunkel said she performed in her first opera at the age of 13 in Michigan.
She sang in Fremont Ross High School’s choir and show choir and performed at Fremont Community Theatre.
But Kunkle said she discovered that her voice was best suited for classical singing.
At Bowling Green State University, Kunkle studied voice performance, She earned an undergraduate degree from BGSU, studied at the University of Salzburg, and earned master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Michigan.
Kunkle said she’s taught at colleges, including briefly at Terra State Community College, and has taken what she described as an unconventional path for an opera singer.
“It’s just been a wild ride,” Kunkle said.
Kunkle’s recordings are collected 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 included on the list of Classical Native American Artists and Musicians at the Smithsonian Institution’s NMAI and on the Molto Native Music 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 overjoyed to perform with Morton as two classical singers bringing their love of music to Yellowstone.
Her performances will be outdoors at the Madison Junction campgrounds in West Yellowstone, Kunkle said.