Star of the show: Fredonia opera singer finds success, passion

Submitted Photo Michael J. Hawk, of Fredonia, is an accomplished baritone opera singer.

Fredonia native Michael J. Hawk, an alum of the Fredonia School of Music, has been on a roller coaster ride filled with emotional highs and lows since he began pursuing a career in musical opera.

Recently, Hawk has seen his talent recognized and his hard work pay off, culminating in major roles across the country, as well as award recognition through the musical theater community.

That’s not too bad for a kid who began signing when he was in elementary school right here in rural Chautauqua County.

Hawk, 28, has seen his career as a baritone opera singer evolve from singing in the Chautauqua Children’s Chorale at age 10, all the way to now performing in theaters across the country, from New York to Los Angeles with Houston, Texas, Santa Fe, N.M., and Aspen, Colo., included as well.

Hawk’s success in the field was validated when he was recently selected as the winner of the Emerging Artist Award by Opera Index.

Michael J. Hawk, second from right, is shown with cast members from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico.

Hawk remembers how when he was young, he got to perform in Alaska and Hawaii. He compared the experience to an athlete playing in major out-of-state tournaments. “Getting to travel to Alaska and Hawaii to perform, it was a special experience. In my own sort of way, it was my own invitational,” Hawk said.

After graduating from Fredonia High School in 2012, Hawk later earned a Bachelor’s in Music: Vocal Performance from SUNY Fredonia. He continued his studies at Rice University, where he graduated with a Master’s in Music: Opera Performance in 2018. Hawk then became a member of the Los Angeles Opera’s Young Artist Program.

This past summer, Hawk played the role of Don Giovanni in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and also starred in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the Aspen Opera Theater in Colorado. Playing the role of the Don was what Hawk called his most career-defining role to date.

“It’s a role I’ve studied for a long time, and it keeps growing and growing. It’s just so fun to see it evolve,” Hawk said.

Playing the role of a villain has become a common occurrence in Hawk’s career because of his voice. “A lot of the roles I play, because I’m a baritone in an opera, the characters are already decided because of my voice type. I play a lot of villains as a baritone, but I want to bring a lot of humanity to those characters,” Hawk said. “I like tapping into those characters because it’s so far from who I am as a person.”

Michael J. Hawk, right, is shown on stage. Hawk recently received the Emerging Artist Award by Opera Index as a credit to the success he’s had in his young career in musical theater.

Hawk has also performed extensively with the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, including the role of Demetrius in an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

But of all the exciting roles Hawk has played so far, there are still two that he considers on his bucket list: Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” and the titular character of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Going back to his portrayal as a student at Fredonia Central, Hawk has always appreciated Tevye’s humor and positivity. However, Hawk joked about the prospects of playing the role of Tevye professionally, “It’s highly unlikely for me as a 6-foot-6, red-haired, 28-year-old. It certainly won’t be anytime soon.”


Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawk once again resides in Fredonia. He was primarily living in Los Angeles upon his graduation from Rice University. Since his move home, Hawk has been focused on spending time with his family, auditioning, and entering into competitions — like the one he won to receive the Emerging Artist Award by Opera Index.

But the pandemic brought on much more than just a change of address for Hawk. He found the time in isolation was especially challenging.

“When you are just left with your thoughts, what we all learned in the pandemic is nothing can replace face to face communication,” Hawk said. “It was really draining. I remember thinking it was one of the hardest things I’ve done.”

Given some of the obstacles Hawk has faced in his life, that statement holds significance.

For many years, Hawk struggled with fears of not being accepted as a gay man. Hawk recalled he didn’t come out until after college because of a fear of what the response could have been.

“For me, it was always me projecting my fears onto other people. It was my fear that they wouldn’t like me if I was different. If I told someone and they didn’t like it would I lose friends,” he said.

But instead, Hawk was surprised by how warmly he was accepted, not only from his family members, but also from friends and members within his circle in the community.

“One of the best things I ever learned is, the more true to yourself you can be, the more people can relate to you,” Hawk said. “I think when we’re treated with grace, that’s what we can then bring to ourselves and to others.”


“A lot of my struggles happened in a short period when I went back to LA, living in a studio apartment and doing everything remotely,” Hawk said. “It felt incredibly lonely.”

Going back years before the pandemic, Hawk had been dealing with an eating disorder, which caused aggressive spells of binge eating and starving himself in response.

“I had dealt with overeating for years. I had a lot of shame cycles that would prevent me from moving forward. It’s really easy to be stuck in cyclical traps like that,” he said. “I felt like a hamster stuck in a box. That lack of motivation was really debilitating.”

Throughout the pandemic, Hawk committed himself to improving his wellbeing. He wanted to find a positive in the negative circumstances around the pandemic.

“The pandemic was such a terrible time. But for me it was also an incredibly bright time. It was a time for self-love and reflection,” Hawk said. “I remember thinking this is different. This is something that is a big turning point in the world for a lot of people. … I thought, I can use this as an opportunity to grow. I took a look at how I took care of myself, physically and mentally.”

Hawk bought a mini trampoline “to get (his) steps in” to work on his physical fitness after struggling with his weight. He also bought a journal to help document his progress toward bettering himself.

“I remember I bought a little journal from Target. I had just started to focus on myself, and I made a goal to eat healthy and to walk every day for 40 days,” Hawk said. “I remember I got to the first 40 days, then I kept going and I made it to end of the journal, and then I bought another journal. … It was something that was very incremental.”

Hawk credits journaling, therapy, and work with a trainer all as ways he has been able to make such positive strides in his physical, mental, and emotional health in recent years.

“Having a trainer helped change the way I think about things. I don’t shame myself for enjoying myself on certain days,” said Hawk. “There’s not a lot we strive for if we don’t enjoy ourselves.”


From online response to especially now since Hawk has returned to Fredonia, Hawk is appreciative of the community supporting him along his journey in the music field and on his personal, as well.

“I want to thank the community for the outpouring of support I’ve always received. It keeps me going,” he said. “I spend time around people around here and am always reminded that I have so much support. This really is a special community.”


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