Returned missionary siblings hit the high notes as rising opera stars

Saratoga Springs, Utah, is a long way from Vienna, New York, Milan or the other so-called capitals of opera.

But distance isn’t dissuading a pair of return missionary siblings (and proud Utah County residents) from pursuing their ambitions in the hyper-competitive world of opera.

Mary Hoskins, 26, and her younger brother, 22-year-old Jonah Hoskins, are both rising talents in what many consider the most demanding genre of vocal performance. This year, the two Hoskins have participated, or will soon participate, in some of the United States’ most elite opera competitions for young talents.

“They are great kids who will do wonderful things,” said Isaac Hurtado, a voice professor and opera director at Utah Valley University who began working with the siblings when they were teenagers.

Mary recently reached the semifinals of the 2019 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York City after claiming top honors at the Rocky Mountain Regional Auditions. Meanwhile, Jonah is a finalist in the 2019 Lotte Lenya Competition being held April 13 at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

Competing at that level, they both agree, is scary, nerve-wracking and exhilarating — all at the same time.

“It was so exciting to be able to participate on the Metropolitan Opera Stage; and the singers were all very kind,” said Mary.

Jonah’s upcoming competition will include a variety of songs — both classical and contemporary — and also include acting elements.

“You have to be able to do just about everything,” he said. “That’s the point of the competition.”

The national competitions are also offering the Hoskins siblings priceless opportunities to master the ins-and-outs of the opera business, gain exposure, and network with key industry leaders.

Not surprisingly, Mary and Jonah’s debut public performances happened in Primary and other Church functions. And their home is always filled with some sort of music.

They also grew up performing in the Salt Lake Children’s Choir.

“When I was 7 or 8, I didn’t really like singing,” remembered Jonah. Then one day his parents, Todd and Analisa Hoskins, took him and his five siblings to watch the film version of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Jonah was a bit annoyed that the actors sang throughout the movie — but he was soon singing its familiar, catchy tunes. His young soprano voice allowed him to hit all the high notes.

Mary, meanwhile, never considered a musical career until her late teens when she joined her younger brother at Hurtado’s opera camp. There she realized she possessed both the talent and drive to pursue opera.

Jonah credits Hurtado for placing them both on the path they are now traveling.

“Before Dr. Hurtado, we had never thought we could pursue music as a career. He let us know it was something we could do.”

Hurtado remembered both of his young students being unassuming, humble and, yes, very gifted.

“They really just took off,” he said. “Both started winning every competition they entered.”

Latter-day Saint opera singer Jonah Hoskins sings with the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra.
Latter-day Saint opera singer Jonah Hoskins sings with the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mary and Jonah eventually ended up in Brigham Young University’s noted music program, where they found another key mentor in vocal performance professor Darrell Babidge, who continues to work with both siblings.

Jonah is wrapping up his bachelor’s degree at the Church-owned university, while Mary is a graduate student.

The siblings plead guilty to being one another’s toughest critics.

“Whenever Mary auditions, I always listen through the door and then I tell her all the things that she did wrong,” said Jonah, laughing.

But they are also one another’s biggest fans. Whenever possible, they attend one another’s competitions. They understand one another's opera highs and lows like no other.

Mary Hoskins and her voice teacher, BYU professor Darrell Babidge, outside New York City's Metropolitan Opera House.
Mary Hoskins and her voice teacher, BYU professor Darrell Babidge, outside New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House.

Traditionally, up-and-coming opera singers follow a trajectory of uninterrupted, relentless study. But Mary and Jonah both took a break from opera for extended periods to realize spiritual goals. Big sister served a full-time mission in Louisiana, while little brother accepted a Mandarin-speaking mission assignment in New York.

Like missionaries around the globe, their days were spent finding people to teach and serving others. Mastering the lyrics of, say, “Don Giovanni” or “The Marriage of Figaro” was set aside for a season.

“But I did have opportunities to perform, often at my mission president’s request,” said Mary, who admits she sometimes wondered if her voice would change during the layoff.

Jonah enjoyed singing at zone conferences and even sang at an interfaith gathering during the Muslim observance of Ramadan.

Some of Jonah’s fellow opera performers thought he was crazy to interrupt vocal training for missionary service. “But I don’t think serving a mission was ever really a question for me.”

In the end, missions never hindered their talent.

“I think the Lord compensated for them,” observed Hurtado, who is both a professional opera singer and a returned missionary.

Jonah was able to shake off his mission rust within a few weeks after his return. Mary, meanwhile, “came home with twice the breath that she had before,” said Hurtado.

Latter-day Saint opera singer Jonah Hoskins served a Mandarin-speaking mission to New York.
Latter-day Saint opera singer Jonah Hoskins served a Mandarin-speaking mission to New York.

Both agree that many of the lessons they learned as missionaries are serving them well as rising opera singers.

“I improved my ability to talk to people on my mission,” said Mary. “You have to do that so much in a music career because you have to make connections with coaches and be able to present yourself in a professional way.”

For Jonah, learning to plan and organize his missionary time now proves invaluable in his hectic performing and practice schedule.

This summer, Jonah will be participating in the Des Moines Metro Opera’s young artist program. He will sing in three operas and receive additional training.

The two will also be sharing the stage for BYU’s fall production of “The Magic Flute.” They are excited to sing together and perform in front of family and friends.

The Hoskins will likely have to relocate to perhaps the East or West Coast to pursue opera’s professional ranks. Mary is hoping to get into a young artists program with a noted opera company outside of Utah.

“I just want to perform and share my music with lots of different people,” she said.

Jonah treasures the opportunities that opera gives him to connect with others and build both personal and professional relationships.

“I have no doubt, that they will both go far,” Hurtado said.