Michelle Culbertson (Micaela Haley) is a modern day Renaissance woman in the truest sense. Having started on the violin at an early age and then transforming into a lyric soprano in the opera world, Michelle is also fluent in Italian and French, having performed and studied languages abroad over the past 20 years. Growing up in Chicago rooted her in the classical arts, but living in Florence, Paris, Berlin, London, New York and Los Angeles has broadened her thirst and knowledge for not only food and wine and all genres of music, but for martial arts, philosophy, psychology, creative writing and an entrepreneurial spirit, as evident with the jazz festival that she helped to create in Napa Valley.
As a violinist Michelle consistently won first chair, began performing with the Elgin Youth Symphony by age 15, started a studio consisting of 20 young student violinists by age 16 and was sought after by DePaul University to pursue a B.A. on the violin at age 17. Her teacher, Amy McPartland, the niece of famed jazz pianist, Marian McPartland brought Michelle into Chicago to watch lessons with her teacher, Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert master, Victor Aitay. While still in high school Michelle was hired as a violinist to play in orchestras in the Chicagoland area which included performances of Handel’s Messiah, Bernstein’s West Side Story and Carmen. As a student Michelle performed in the I.M.E.A orchestras, was first chair in a joint collaboration Orchestra at I.M.S.A, attended music camps in both voice and violin at Univ. of Madison, Univ. of Illinois and WeslyanShe won Best Concert Master at The World of Music Festival in Nashville, TN at the age of 17.
Beginning at age 16 Michelle began studying voice with local Chicago pianist and voice teacher, William E. Nelson. Under his tutelage Michelle went on to receive scholarships to four Universities, won The Park Forest Singers Competition, placed 1st in many talent contests and began singing in local professional choirs in the Chicago area. She gave her first full length recital while still in high school to an audience of a few hundred people.
Michelle decided on DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she performed the roles of Antonia in The Tales of Hoffman, Lucy in The Telephone, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and The Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. While still a student at DePaul, Michelle was hired by Cliff Colnot to sing on commercials for McDonalds, Nintendo and State Farm which put her in SAG. She began singing locally and was cast as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel twice for Pamiro Opera in Green Bay Wisconsin, Eileen in Wonderful Town for Light Opera Works, Barbarina for Dupage Opera’s production of Marriage of Figaro and cast in Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Don Giovanni understudying Zerlina. She performed in the chorus for the debut of Shining Brow and understudied Hannah in The Merry Widow. For her Senior Recital at DePaul University Michelle composed an art song entitled Come Away with Me which she later arranged for her album Syren.
After College, Michelle traveled to Italy and New York to hone her languages and search for a voice teacher. She has lived and studied in Florence, Italy where she learned to speak Italian under well known translator Cinzia Poli, Los Angeles Opera sent her to Berlin to study German at the Goethe Institute. Most recently Michelle went to live in Paris to learn French at The Alliance. An avid language lover Michelle has also studied French and Italian privately in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. In the study of voice she soughttop operatic coaches; Denise Massé at the Metropolitan Opera, Charlie Riecker, Artistic Director of the metropolitan Opera for whom she counted as a friend (link to article) Bill Vendice of The Los Angeles Opera , Tim Shaindlin at The Lyric Opera of Chicago. She studied acting under Harry Silverstein for two years in the Stanislawki’s method, worked for Cliff Colnot and was also asked back by him to perform The Mahler Symphony # 4 with The DePaul Symphony as an alumnus. She has attended masterclasses given by opera singers: Renée Fleming, Catherine Malfitano, Violinists: Pinkas Zukerman, Bassist, Gary Carr and cellist, Amir Alden. Michelle settled on a voice teacher in Los Angeles who approached the study of the voice through the Klein method, a physical approach to singing based on treating the singer as an athlete and the voice as a muscle.
Michelle has produced a broadway album entitled Michelle Culbertson sings Broadway Favorites for Piano Disc. She also arranged and co-produced with Brian Culbertson Be Still my Soul for Piano Disc and released the album independently on their own record label. After hearing a demo of Carmen produced and arranged by Michelle, RCA records asked Michelle to develop the idea into a full album which turned into Syren with the name change Micaela Haley to differentiate herself from her previous recordings that were in different genres. Both Michelle and her husband created and produced the album Syren, its remixes and the music videos.
Michelle has also worked with her husband, well known R&B Jazz artist, Brian Culbertson on his projects. She composed the song Last Night on Come on Up featuring trumpeter Rick Braun. Has performed background vocals on various albums as well as maintaining an executive producer role. Due to her love of jazz, specifically fusion out of Europe, Brian hired Michelle to produce his piano on Another Long Night Out and most recently she produced his piano on his upcoming FUNK! album which she also executive produced. You can hear her singing on one of her favorite Christmas songs “Some Children Hear Him” on Brian Culbertson’s A Soulful Christmas album.
While a young student Michelle also worked many jobs to pay for her violin, voice lessons and to put herself through college. She has worked at TCBY, McDonalds, Musicland, was a nanny for two British Girls, a babysitter in NYC for the producer of 60 Minutes, a secretary at DePaul University, an assistant to conductor Cliff Colnot and a cocktail waitress as well.
Michelle’s hobbies include Boxing and Martial Arts. She has a 4th belt in both Wing chun and Kali which she earned under 7th Dan, Ben Brown a triple Black Belt in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, Kali and Wing-chun and a professional fighter in Los Angeles and has trained under professional MMA fighter Thor Skancke in Los Angeles. An avid reader, Michelle, has a thirst for both psychology and philosophy. She is currently looking into furthering her education in England for a Masters in Philosophy. She has studied Philosophy at The School of Life in London and continues to take classes.
Michelle has been writing books in her spare time. And has just started learning her fourth language, Spanish. She continues to study the cello with Brazilian Cellist, Francisco and Escrima and Russian Kettlebell with Robert Warburton, once a Vipers Naval Search and Rescue Swimmer. She resides in London.