Crossover Corner: Come to My Garden

Crossover Corner: Come to My Garden

A benefit concert held in memory of heralded soprano Rebecca Luker shines a light on crossover repertoire.


Come to my garden, nestled in the hills. 

There I’ll keep you safe beside me.

[Are you singing yet?]

Come to my garden. 

Rest there in my arms. There I’ll see you 

safely grown, and on your way…


If you’re a soprano—or if you teach sopranos—the pull to finish this line is probably as strong as ti is to do.

These opening lines come, of course, from “Come to My Garden” from the 1991 Broadway musical The Secret Garden (music & lyrics by Lucy Simon & Marsha Norman) and will forever be associated with the late, great Rebecca Luker—a singer beloved fiercely by audiences and colleagues alike. Luker, who died from complications of ALS in 2020, served as inspiration to countless singers. 

In junior high, I became obsessed with her voice and artistry as I wore out the cassette of the The Secret Garden soundtrack, and her soaring, seemingly effortless soprano on my Showboat CD in high school served as a gateway drug to the harder stuff—like Puccini. Her interpretations of “Make Believe” and “You Are Love” hastened the inevitability that I would quickly come to love Mimì’s arias, as well as those of Susanna and Susannah (Mozart & Floyd, respectively). 

Around that time, my compulsive listening also grew to include Sarah Brightman’s 1997 solo disc, Time to Say Goodbye. While browsing CDs at Borders Books and Music (something I miss!), I realized that Christine from The Phantom of the Opera had her own CD (Luker, incidentally was an understudy for Brightman before taking over for her as Christine in 1989)! At this time, my family shared an AOL account and one (not-smart) cell phone—no Google and no YouTube. But I loved this bookstore CD section type of research. I did the same thing with Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley. Finding out that the actress that played Eva Perón was the mom from the TV show “Life Goes On” and Reno Sweeney on my Anything Goes cassette was a total thrill. I nearly lost my mind when I learned that she was the original Fantine in Les Misérables. But I digress.    

“Time to Say Goodbye,” the chart-topping titular duet, introduced countless listeners to the tenor of now mega star status, Andrea Bocelli. Time to Say Goodbye, the album, also featured the tenor José Cura, whom I’d sung with just a few years earlier in my boy soprano days at Lyric Opera of Chicago in a splashy production of Giordano’s Fedora, alongside Mirella Freni and Plácido Domingo. Cura replaced Domingo at the end of the run, and I knew him! Sort of. In Borders Books and Music, the world suddenly became much smaller, and I began to learn about the “shared real estate” of singers—opera singers and musical theater divas—Christines and Mimìs. 

Brightman’s album also includes encores of “O mio babbino caro” and “Alleluia” from Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate—my warmup piece (a bit comically, in hindsight) with my high school voice teacher. I now realize that this was how I organically came to learn about Crossover. And I loved every sixteenth note of it. For me, it started with Rebecca Luker. I was inspired. And I wasn’t the only one.

Rebecca Luker has inspired many writers and continues to. This is seen and heard in The Rebecca Luker Songbook, “a collection of over 80 compositions inspired by and written especially for Rebecca’s unique and wide-ranging talent.”1 Our craft as singers continues to fuel, and be fueled by, writers, and it is meaningful to note that the songbook was in process well before Luker’s diagnosis, and many of the songs were completed and performed by Luker before her passing. And this past May saw The Rebecca Luker Songbook: A Benefit Concert at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, featuring 20 world-premiere songs from The Rebecca Luker Songbook

A glittering roster of colleagues and singers inspired by Luker lent their voices to the concert benefitting Project ALS, including Julie Benko, Bryce Pinkham, Nikki Renée Daniels, Jessica Vosk, and Carolee Carmello among others. Visitors to Crossover Corner know how much a I enjoy a Spotify Artist search. Whether you have time for a deep dive or want to take a screen grab of a list of songs to listen to later, so much valuable data can be easily uncovered in our streaming platforms. And for teachers and singers looking for repertoire ideas, the cast and composer list alone is enough to keep you and your students busy! 

And in this case, doing a search based on the writers featured may prove particularly helpful, especially because their pieces—featured on this concert— were created for and inspired by the voice of a Broadway legend who was at home in modern Broadway repertoire like Mary Poppins and who also could bring Jerome Kern’s soaring melodies to life in a way that only operatic resonance offers.

One such composer featured is Carmel Dean, whose new song cycle Well-Behaved Women recently enlisted the voices and artistry of Broadway leading ladies to illuminate and bring to life the voices of Malala Yousafzai, Frida Kahlo, and Harriet Tubman, to name just a few. 

Another contributing composer to the Luker Songbook is Andrew Lippa, who’s mark is all over the Broadway musical and concert hall landscape, in an output ranging from The Addams Family and Big Fish to The Wild Party and I Am Harvey Milk, a part choral work and part theatre piece. Lippa’s lyrical and tuneful vocal writing makes easy work for a voice teacher looking to find a musical theatre piece for a classical vocalist.  

Jenny Giering is another composer featured here, whose works in process include timely and accessible content, such as Alice Bliss, centering on the deployment of Alice’s father to Iraq and the associated challenges of the family’s upheaval. Another Giering work with significant import and accessibility is found in What We Leave Behind, for a single female performer and chamber ensemble.

So many of us came to our love and pursuit of classical vocal technique by way of a singer we wished to emulate or simply couldn’t get enough of. For me, Rebecca Luker’s artistry is both a gateway and a source of inspiration. As a performer and voice teacher, I am grateful not only to be inspired by voices, but also for the logistical assistance that’s offered simply by observing and researching (even in a superficial way) a singer’s career and those they inspire(d)—especially the writers. 

In addition to the writers mentioned earlier, The Rebecca Luker Songbook: A Benefit Concert also featured works of Scott Eyerly, Michael Heitzman & Ilene Reid, Henry Krieger, David Loud, Martin Lowe, Joshua Rosenblum, and Sam Willmott, among others. I invite you to pick two or three and engage in some inspirational and logistical research as you continue to deepen your Crossover practice.         

Peter Thoresen

Dr. Peter Thoresen is an award-winning voice teacher, countertenor, and music director. His students appear regularly on Broadway (Almost Famous, Beetlejuice, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Moulin Rouge! and more), in national tours, and on TV and film. He works internationally as a voice teacher, conductor, and music director in the Middle East and Southeast Asia with the Association of American Voices. He is an adjunct voice faculty member at Pace University and maintains a thriving private studio in New York City; he also serves as music director with Broadway Star Project. Thoresen has served on the voice faculties of Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, Musical Theater College Auditions (MTCA), and Broadway Kids Auditions (BKA) and holds a DM in voice from the IU Jacobs School of Music where he served as a visiting faculty member. He teaches a popular online vocal pedagogy course for new voice teachers and performs throughout the U.S. and abroad. To learn more, visit, @peter.thoresen (Insta), and @DrPetesTweets (Twitter).