I am not a jealous person by nature and I rarely find myself coveting parts of anyone else's life. After all, I have a great life. Wonderful husband, healthy children, loving family, fabulous friends, cute house in a wonderful neighborhood. What more is there, right? So, I can go about my daily life and be pretty happy. Until... I meet someone like Kinga Skretkowicz-Ferguson. You see, Kinga also has a really great life: job she loves, wonderful husband, adorable child, lives in a cute house in a great neighborhood, has lots of wonderful friends. She is a very happy person. The difference between Kinga and me that turns me green with envy is: she can sing. Not just sing. SING. Really sing. Opera sing.
An old boyfriend once told me that I had the worst singing voice of anyone who sings as much as I do. I enjoy it. And when I am in the car (with my poor children), I pretend that I can keep up with anyone- from Nina Simone to Crissy Hynde to Alicia Keys. The real world, and old boyfriends, tells me different.
I met Kinga before I knew she could sing. She lives in my lovely little part of The Heights, Proctor Plaza, and her son is just a little younger than my oldest. We met at a playgroup or the park or something to do with mommy life. Kinga is the kind of person you automatically like. She friendly and smart and pretty. Anyone will be drawn to her. I knew her quite a while before I knew she was an Opera singer and it pleased me to no end, despite the jealousy. Pleased me because it was yet another confirmation of what I already believe- that in this neighborhood, more than most others, you just never know what kind of story you'll find behind the front door of a tidy, little mint green bungalow.
Lovely Kinga, on the day we had lunch at Shade
Kinga grew up in Poland and her route to the Heights was circuitous. She was a student at a Polish university in the mid90s and it was there, through student theater, she met a visiting American professor named Jamie. They started to date and not long after his job took him to Paris to teach. Kinga was headed to graduate school anyway and decided on Lyon University where she could get an MBA and be close to her beau. There relationship solidified and they were married in Paris in 1999 (yeah, so yet another reason to be jealous of her).
Together, their mutual education goals then brought them back to the States. Jamie would be going to Indiana University to complete a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. Kinga would also enroll in their Opera program, the largest in the country, and get her Masters in Opera and her Performers Diploma. Then upon completion of their degrees, Jamie was offered a job at University of Houston in their Honors College.
Studying a role
Kinga and Jamie were tasked with finding an apartment from Indiana. Contacts they had in Houston told them there were only two neighborhoods they would enjoy: Montrose and the Heights. Initially, they chose Montrose and, in a bit of small world freakishness, actually lived on the same block where my husband and I lived before we moved to the Heights! They were enjoying their new neighborhood, the proximity to everything, the general feel that Montrose has. But life progresses and soon they had a baby on the way. Their needs changed and they felt they wanted something more residential than Montrose but with a lot of the same key factors- "close and cool." They remembered the Heights and started to look around here. Like many of us, they were "enamored with bungalows" and fell in love with the Proctor Plaza neighborhood for this reason. In addition to the bungalows they coveted, they also saw bustling Proctor Park and knew it would be great for their child to live so close to a great outdoor space.
Kinga as Adele in Strauss's Die Fledermaus when she was performing with the Chicago Opera Theatre
Kinga feels strongly that they made the right decision. She says the "sense of community is so important because life in a city can be alienating." This sense of community in the Heights helped her in a way she never anticipated. When Kinga and Jamie moved to Houston, she was working with an opera company. Singing. Remember that part? Anyway, it involved constant travel and she knew she wasn't going to be able to keep it up forever. Still, singing and travelling were a big part of who she was. It was not going to be easy to make a change. But then she was pregnant and there is no bigger change than that. She faced a watershed moment where everything was going to be different. Living in an area with such a strong sense of community allowed her to get entrenched and really aided in the transition from "an active career to a more stationary life." With new friends and supportive neighbors, Kinga felt a strong support system developing around her. Little things- like the ability to go places with the baby in his stroller- became very important as she transitioned to her new lifestyle.
Kinga gave up travelling but not her place in the world of opera. That MBA she got in France came in handy when she decided to embark on a more settled life. With a family to think about, arts administration was a great way to be practical and passionate at the same time. Kinga found an ideal situation with Houston's Ars Lyrica as their Executive Director. The Heights is as much home to Ars Lyrica as the stage at Zilka Hall. The Artistic Director, Matthew Dirst, also lives here. Many business decisions for the organization are made in the Heights at places like Antidote. Living in the Heights makes it easy to work a job that takes you to different parts of Houston as well. From home to her office in the Galleria takes Kinga 10-15 minutes and the "commute" downtown isn't even worthy of the term. Kinga made a comment that is something I often find myself saying: when you live in Montrose you feel like you are so central, so in the middle. Then you move to the Heights and realize that this is the most accessible neighborhood in Houston.
In her life as a Heights citizen and Ars Lyrica Director, Kinga hopes to find a way to bring the two together. While the ensemble performs at places like Rienzi and Bayou Bend, Kinga would love to be able to bring early music to a greater audience by organizing concerts in less obvious places. She hopes to be able to reach out to the community and see if people would be interested in experiencing Baroque music, all played on period instruments, in intimate settings or at local events. If you know of an event or venue where some early music would be welcome, you can contact Kinga firstname.lastname@example.org