“I remember my first day of classes at Simpson,” says Kasanders. “I was walking with a fellow freshman vocal major and she said, ‘I’m so nervous — all I know about opera is Pavarotti and Renee Fleming.’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, right.’ But I had to run back to my dorm room and Google them because I had no idea who they were.”
As fate would have it, 10 years after that Google search, Kasanders found herself performing with Fleming at Carnegie Hall.
“What a whirlwind — what a full circle,” says Kasanders, who holds three degrees from Julliard and a master’s in vocal performance from Rice University. “It’s humbling to realize how far you can go.”
Indeed, she has come a long way in a rather short time. Just five years after her Simpson graduation, Kasanders took the stage at the Metropolitan Opera as one of nine Grand Finalists.
“That was the most wonderful and most scary week of my life,” says Kasanders. “To step onto the Met stage and see 4,000 seats full of people that are just rooting for you — it was just incredible.”
Of course, among her most loyal and enthusiastic fans are the friends and mentors she came to know at Simpson. Kasanders says she’s deeply indebted to Simpson music faculty icons who had a profound impact on shaping her success, including the late Dr. Robert Larsen ’56, Dr. Kimberly Roberts ’98, Dr. Michael Patterson ’75 and Dr. Tim McMillin ’97.
“They became so much like family because of the care, devotion and attention they gave each one of us students. The growth I made from my freshman to senior year is the most substantial growth I’ve experienced in my time of singing. If not for them, [my career] just wouldn’t have gone the way it has.”
Coming back strong
The devastating impacts of our global pandemic are the only low notes in her otherwise meteoric rise to stardom. In 2020, COVID caused stage shutdowns worldwide — wiping out much of her first, full-year schedule of performances as a freelancer.
She says the time off stage gave her a much deeper appreciation for what music means both to her and a hurting world in need of healing.
“It really hit me when I came back to Des Moines, where I got to sing unmasked with a full orchestra,” says Kasanders. “I could feel and hear the whole orchestra and the acoustics of opera singing. When I walked off the stage I cried, because this is what it’s supposed to be like.”
Kasanders says she’s eager to savor many more such moments, as she resumes a fuller performance schedule that will take her across the U.S. and Europe in 2022.