When she arrived at Simpson, Beverly Thiele was a country-western singer who normally performed at wedding dances and in the Blue Bird Tavern in Elma, Iowa, her home town of 600 people. Today, Beverly O’Regan Thiele is a critically acclaimed soprano who has performed leading roles in some of the world’s greatest opera houses.
What happened? To hear Thiele ’87, tell it, she was influenced by two Simpson faculty members, Douglas Duncan and Dr. Robert Larsen ’56, who heard more potential in her voice than she did.
Duncan was her voice instructor. “I really wasn’t interested in classical music, and I fought it tooth and nail at first,” Thiele says. Then she laughs, adding, “Doug and I really didn’t care for each other.”
That changed after her sophomore year. Duncan and Larsen, who created the Des Moines Metro Opera, invited Thiele to work there that summer. “I fell in love with it,” she says. “It was literally life-changing.”
By the time she graduated, “I had never worked so hard in my life, and I didn’t know that I could do what I did,” she says. “They brought this out in me. You leave with such pride in where you’re from, and there was such pride taken in you. You don’t get that everywhere.”
She mentions classmates and other alumni who have made their mark, including Richard Walters ’78 with Hal Leonard Publishing. “He’s hugely important in classical music,” she says.
Duncan died suddenly in 1988 at the age of 37. Thiele still toasts him with his favorite drink – Tanqueray and tonic – after the opening night of every performance. And she has performed throughout the world, including the Lyric Opera in Chicago, Washington National Opera, New York Metropolitan and City Opera and Badisches Staatstheatre in Karlsruhe, Germany.
In 2012, she returned to Indianola to portray the title role in “Susannah” with the Des Moines Metro Opera. She also rode with Team Simpson on RAGBRAI. “I had the time of my life,” she says.
When she’s back home in Elma, Thiele still performs at the Blue Bird Tavern and plans a future recital in town to help raise money for a community center.
“When I do a recital at home, it’s more nerve-wracking than the bigger houses,” she says with a laugh. “Because I know everybody there.”