Eric Cutler’s amazing career started as inauspiciously as any talented high school tenor and is punctuated by a series of what could be described as “Luther College connections.”
As a freshman he made the Iowa All-State Chorus, conducted by Weston Noble ’43 that year. A few years later, he was selected to the Iowa State Fair Singers and Jazz Band, rehearsing at Luther much of that summer under the direction of Luther faculty, Dennis Darling and Tony Guzman ‘90. Even so, Eric managed to escape Luther’s grasp to attend a state university on a scholarship. A year later, due to a chance encounter with a Luther admissions counselor, we reeled him back in. As Eric recalls it, Greg Eide ‘87, who had helped process his original application to Luther, recognized Eric and struck up a conversation. “He asked if I was a singer, and I replied that I was,” Eric says. “It was a major turning point in my life.” A few months later, Eric transferred to Luther.
Having walked away from his university scholarship, Eric “auditioned” at another venerable Decorah institution, Bob’s Standard service station. Professor of voice Ed Andereck recalls a memorable Messiah solo audition—with Eric arriving a tad late. Customers just kept rolling into Bob’s at closing time, so Eric was still wearing his Standard Oil uniform covered in a day’s worth of oil changes, his tire gauge proudly displayed in his shirt pocket. He sang beautifully. Luther vocal coach/pianist Jessica Paul said, “Even at that young age, his musical instincts and the size and beauty of his voice were very special.”
Eric worked intensively with Edwin Andereck and Jessica Paul, and a full year before the Metropolitan Opera auditions, began practicing a set of five arias each and every day. The work paid off as Eric advanced through the district and regional competitions before facing 24 other finalists in New York. Named one of the ten $10,000 winners, he was the only tenor. With a year left at Luther, Eric faced a difficult decision—accept the Met’s offer to sign—or return to complete his degree. Remarkably, he chose the latter. Eric says, “It turned out that my last year was my best.” Eric took a philosophy class, an astronomy class, an acting class—and a broad range of courses outside his major. After all, there would be time for more instruction in music after graduation.
Eric joined the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in 1999. Eric compares becoming a great tenor to being a promising big league pitcher, “You start out with 99-mile-per-hour fastballs with no control, but that comes with time and training.” But the biggest benefit of the three-year program was the personal growth Eric says he experienced living in New York and singing with the nation’s largest opera company.
Keep in mind, that the “business” of opera is steeped in more than 400 years of tradition. It’s not an easy field to break into! But Eric has done it while garnering numerous awards, and accolades. He received the Martin E. Segal Award for the best debut at Lincoln Center in 2001. In 2002, he received the ARIA Award, a grant presented each year to three singers judged the best young Americans in opera. He also received the prestigious Richard Tucker Award in 2005, one of only five tenors chosen in the award’s history. Eric’s work has been praised in the New York Times and other major newspapers worldwide where critics have compared him to a young Luciano Pavarotti and lauded his “distinctive, red-blooded voice.”
In addition to New York’s Met, Eric has performed with many of the world’s great orchestras and opera companies at the best-known venues—from Chicago’s Lyric Opera, Kennedy Center, and the Hollywood Bowl, to the Royal Opera-Covent Garden, Paris Opera, and Opera Australia, to name just a few. When he is not on the road performing Mozart, Bellini, Verdi or Donizetti in London, Madrid or L.A., he escapes the lights and buzz of the world’s great cities—where he is the much-celebrated young tenor—to his wooded acreage near his hometown of Adel, Iowa.
Eric has graciously returned to Luther several times to perform and to conduct master classes with students, and has hosted Luther student externships as well. He serves as an inspiration for young people pursuing careers in teaching and the performing arts and was the recipient of Luther’s Young Alumni Award in 2008.