KATY MAGAZINE l AUGUST 2019
By Jennifer Miko
Meet Katy’s Nicole Heaston Lane – wife, mother of two teenagers, volunteer, and critically acclaimed opera singer. Nicole travels the globe performing in prestigious venues, while reminding her family that home is where the heart is.
Destined for Greatness
Nicole’s vocal training began in her Chicago church choir.
“I started singing my very first solo and “I had to sing a high note,” Nicole recalls. “I used to roll my eyes to the top of my head and everyone would tell me to stop doing that, it was like I was looking for my high note.”
Her mother, a professional piano player, enrolled her in piano lessons, but Nicole admits she wasn’t very good. Luckily her instructor noticed Nicole liked to sing while playing the piano and encouraged her mom to sign her up for other choirs, outside of church.
“She put me in the Chicago Children’s Choir and I was really nervous because I thought everyone in the choir was so much better than I was,” says Nicole. “I heard them rehearsing but my mother was like, ‘No, you can do this, you’re going to audition.’ It turned out to be life-changing for me.”
Nicole says the joy of singing inspired her, as well as the women in her church choir. “We had such strong ladies singing in the choir in my church and I loved to just hear them sing it down,” says Nicole. “But it wasn’t something I thought I could do until I actually started doing it.”
Reaching for Higher Notes
Nicole attended Kenwood Academy public high school in Chicago and was influenced by Dr. Lena McLin, the music director there. She convinced Nicole to move from second alto to soprano and told her she was an opera singer.
“I said black people don’t sing opera, and she said, 'Yes, they do,' and she pointed to the back of her classroom to a row and pictures of William Warfield and Leontyne Price and Shirley Verrett,” remembers Nicole. “She said, 'Those are black opera singers and you can be one of them.'”
Nicole went on to graduate from the University of Akron (Ohio) and complete her graduate degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She was then invited to join the Houston Opera Studio, the apprenticeship program of the Houston Grand Opera. Her first professional role was Juliette in Romeo and Juliette at the Houston Grand Opera.
Creating Impressive Characters
Over the years, Nicole has performed operas in Spanish, French, English, German, and Italian. When she gets the score for an opera, she highlights her parts and translates the words into English. She works with vocal coach Richard Bado in Houston to learn to sing the music correctly, then she adds the text and meaning later.
Once onsite, Nicole’s transformation into character continues with elaborate costumes, wigs and makeup.
Nicole admits being a victim of a wardrobe malfunction and getting her heels caught up in a long cloak. She’s even fallen in a scene and bruised her knees. But she said she always stayed in character and pretended her stumble, or fall, was part of the scene.
“Performing in an opera is like being in sports,” Nicole says, “because you have to be in shape and be able to sing, run around, stand, kneel, get up, all while wearing 50 pounds around you.
In one production, Nicole recalls having six, quick costume changes that included various corseted dresses, different eyelashes, makeup, wigs and jewelry. She was assisted backstage by four women whom she described as her personal NASCAR team for their speed and accuracy.
Taking Center Stage
One of Nicole’s most important performances was her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She played Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovani. That same night, she announced to her family that she was pregnant with her first child.
But the role that changed Nicole as a person was Handel’s Alcina. She fell in love the music and bought the score at a second-hand book shop After an audition in Oslo, the director asked Lane if she’d ever sung Alcina. Nicole answered, “No, but I have the score and I’m just waiting for somebody to pay me to learn it. And a week later I had that job and it was the most satisfying role I’ve ever sung.”
Home Away from Home
The runs of Nicole’s shows range from four to six, or as many as 18, performances depending on the opera house. She stays in apartments when she’s on location, sometimes for four to six weeks. Although a newer production could require her to be there two to three months.
While Nicole is working out of town, her husband Stan manages the family’s day-to-day operations. Stan served four years in the U.S. Marines (Persian Gulf War Veteran) and for the past 14 years, has served as an in-house counselor for BP America Company. He spends at least 40 hours per week in the office, but can work remotely, and has a flexible work schedule.
Nicole and Stan Lane
Miles Apart, But Always Close
When she’s working, Nicole stays connected with Stan and the kids, Morgan 15, and Julian 13, as they try to keep everything as normal as possible.
“We don’t change their schedules,” Nicole explains. “We used to get temporary nannies who would take them all the places that I would. But Stan does that the majority of the time now, and he makes it work with his job and everything.”
Stan has coached Julian’s Katy Youth Basketball team, and regularly works with him on drills. He always attends the kids’ basketball, theatre and choir events and often helps Morgan rehearse her lines for upcoming productions.
“I have done Morgan’s hair and makeup for several performances (Ariel, Little Mermaid),” Stan says. “Nicole always purchases the makeup and gives me a lesson on how to apply it and style her hair. Thank God for technology because Nicole via FaceTime typically ensures Morgan is presentable. I must admit they are very patient with me and we tend to have a big laugh at my initial attempts.”
Over the years, Stan has volunteered for school parties, science expos, concessions, and hoe downs, but admits Nicole does most of the volunteering. She visits with the young people at the Krause Center and delivers Meals on Wheels. Nicole and Morgan are active with the National Charity league Azalea chapter and volunteer with them. This fall, Morgan will be in the Bravo Show Choir and Nicole will be involved with the Cinco Ranch High School Choir board.
Spending Quality Time Together
“I’m involved in everything with my children because when I’m not working as a singer, they’re my life,” says Nicole. “Thank God I have Skype and FaceTime so I can see my children every day and talk to them.”
The Lane family: Julian, Stan, Nicole and Morgan
The Lanes spend quality time at home and abroad (visiting Nicole at work). When Nicole is in Katy, Julian admits he loves watching movies and cuddling with her. He has been in several musical theatre productions and Nicole helps him prepare his music and go over his lines.
“She tells me I can do it, and I can do anything as long just put my mind to it,” says Julian.
Nicole also supports Julian’s sports events. When asked if he could hear Nicole cheering at swim meets and basketball games, Julian recalls, “Yes she’s very loud. I could hear her over the water, and during the basketball games. It was really funny.”
Morgan, has successfully followed in her mother’s performing footsteps. She has been in musical theatre productions for years, with leads such as Captain Hook, Ariel, and Jasmine. Nicole helps her prepare for her roles too.
“We work very well together,” says Morgan. “She really critiques things that I need to work on, and I call her my coach at that time instead of my mom.”
Stan calls Nicole “Beautiful” and “Love of My Life” and says she doesn’t allow him to forget she’s his wife. After her shows, she asks him for feedback to identify what she could do differently to improve her performance. When the family can’t attend a show, they typically talk to Nicole before she goes on stage.
La Boheme, Houston Grand Opera, photo: Lynn Lane
“She is in full ‘mother’ mode,” Stan says. “That is, she helps me manage the kids’ activities and encourages me to cook rather than having take-out.”
When she performs, Stan says, “I am always happy for her because she was born to be on stage. She is a perfectionist when it comes to her art.”
Nicole notes that her next role, Thais, will be challenging. The part is labeled as one of the most challenging roles in the soprano repertoire, but she tries not to look at it that way. The way Nicole manages her work reads like a metaphor for her family life:
“It’s only hard if you don’t work at it. You have to practice and put in the time,” says Nicole. “I like to take a challenge and try to meet it.”