Since she graduated from NWU, Icy has moved audiences with her singing and made significant advances in a promising opera career.
Simpson’s voice teacher at Omaha Central High School, Lyn Bouma (’85), introduced her to opera by assigning her Puccini’s aria, “O mio babbino caro.” It was an “aha!” moment for the soprano, giving her the chance “to become a different character, to enter a different world. At that moment, my future was defined.”
Bouma knew that something had clicked for Icy. “Icy was hooked on opera. Her musical eyes were opened and she never looked back.”
Simpson came to Nebraska Wesleyan in 2003, finding that NWU “was the best place for me to be,” thanks to excellent teaching and coaching. She said that music faculty “had the ability to help me get the singing right,” and that Dawn Krogh, director of opera, “had the ability to help me make the music come alive.”
In 2007, Simpson entered a master’s program in opera performance at the University of Texas-Austin after winning the prestigious Harrington Fellowship, which covered tuition and fees and provided a monthly stipend.
Simpson’s voice teacher at UT, Darlene Wiley, was astonished by her gifts. “She never fails to move and inspire everyone in the audience. Every performance sparkles and sizzles.” Reviewers confirmed Icy’s electricity. An Austin Chronicle review described her performance in the title role of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. “At just over 5 feet tall, Icy Simpson channels an authentic, confident grace… granting the audience a window into her broken heart.”
In 2008, Simpson won the University Division of the Classical Singer Magazine voice competition, and earned a spot on a 2009 Marilyn Horne Foundation song festival in New York. There, she sang in a master class for the famed James Levine, director of music at the Metropolitan Opera.
Simpson was apprehensive as she sat through the class, watching Levine painstakingly critique several singers. Known for both his personal warmth and rigorously high standards, Levine was, as Simpson laughingly recalled, “very politely ripping their arms off!”
Overcome by nerves, “I felt so alone. The accompanist started playing… I couldn’t remember anything.” Except for the reason she sings. “In calling upon God, He was doing the work through me that I couldn’t do alone.”
When Simpson finished Schubert’s ethereal “Nacht und Träume,” a hush came over the audience. “I heard nothing, then someone saying, ‘Wow.’ Then applause.”
Simpson recalled Levine giving her the ultimate compliment. “‘Terrific. You had all the artistry you needed for this piece.’ Then he critiqued the accompanist!”
Simpson is completing her master’s degree at UT; she’s begun work for an Artist Diploma in vocal performance, and will continue to audition. Wiley marveled at her progress so far. “It’s incredible what she has already accomplished in her young life.”
Simpson’s response: “To God be the glory!”