Showmance: Finding love on the opera stage

This story is part of a series of 50 stories we are releasing to commemorate 50 years of opera in West Michigan. Browse more stories and follow our journey throughout the season.

In the industry, they call this phenomenon a “showmance.” It’s such an established idea that performers who become infatuated during a show are often skeptical of their own feelings.

Real-life wife-and-husband Anne-Carolyn Bird and Matthew Burns

Opera and romance have a fraught relationship. Between the heartbreak, kidnapping, imprisonment, and worse, opera narratives are not an easy place to find love. Since conflict is at the center of all storytelling, there is no end to the tribulations onstage lovers must endure. For opera characters, a successful first date is one that finds each of them still standing by the end.

After weeks of long rehearsals, staring longingly at one another, and dying in each other’s arms every night, opera’s amorous intensity can find its way backstage and into the lives of the actors themselves. In the industry, they call this phenomenon a “showmance.” It’s such an established idea that performers who become infatuated during a show are often skeptical of their own feelings.

“When he walked into the room, it was like all the lights came on, and my heart pounded in my chest,” said Anne-Carolyn Bird in a 2008 MLive feature about her opera romance. “It’s called a ‘showmance,’ and we wanted to be sure we weren’t falling prey to it.”

Bird met her husband, Matthew Burns, when the two played the parts of young lovers navigating The Marriage of Figaro’s “day of madness” together. In the opera buffa tradition, the two had multiple run-ins with one another, including an accidental one on the street in Manhattan. Their chemistry during the show was apparent to all. Bird recalls that an audience member told him she had “never seen two people look so much in love on stage as you two.”

After Figaro concluded, the two actors went their separate ways. But, as fate would have it, they found themselves together again three weeks later—in an Ohio production of The Barber of Seville. Deciding not to try and thwart the wiles of destiny any longer, the pair rendezvoused when they returned to their homes in New York.

“When we had our first date, there wasn’t any tension about that first kiss,” said Burns.

The Opera Grand Rapids stage is no stranger to flying sparks. Alto Barbara Osburn and bass Mark Mullinax met in the chorus of the 1993 production of Carmen. When they saw each other again, it was as onstage lovers, in Romeo et Juliette—four years later. As soon as the production ended, they went on a date. Now, the married couple continues to sing together.

Art and Ashley Wallace met in 2007’s Carmen. Ashley—then a Zentmeyer—won Opera Grand Rapids’ 2008 Collegiate Vocal Competition, and met Art during her first run on the OGR stage.

The shy Art was reluctant to approach Ashley, but enough time singing together brought out his natural humor. By the staging of The Flying Dutchman, at the end of the season, the two were getting along swimmingly. They went on a date, and in 2009, they got married.

For our characters, romance tends to be a series of tragedies or farcical mishaps. We’re overjoyed when their offstage counterparts find real, durable love and bring it from our stage into the world.

OUR FOUNDERS HAD A BOLD PROPOSITION: to build a professional opera company that would put Grand Rapids on the map for a very discerning audience. 50 years later, we are humbled to be the modern bearers of classical standards and modern ingenuity. Learn more.



As an integral part of our city’s artistic fabric, it’s our responsibility to see to its continual flourishing. Please consider donating to Opera Grand Rapids to ensure our artistic excellence for the next 50 years and beyond. You’ve already made us great. With your support, there’s no limits to the height our voices can reach together. Give today.