Few in the Savannah Center realized the woman singing an aria once played professional football; sang in a beer garden and is nicknamed Thunder.
Fighting stereotypes and breaking barriers is nothing new for Ashley Thunder Lowe. She recently performed here as Countess Almaviva with the Central Florida Lyric Opera in “The Marriage of Figaro.” Her performance deeply moved Maestro Bill Doherty.
“I had tears,” said Doherty, head of the opera company. He conducted the orchestra as Lowe sang the aria, “Dove sono i bei momenti” (The Moment Has Arrived).
“It was beautifully done and I was so proud of Ashley,” Doherty said. “She works so hard and sets an example for our young singers. She is a remarkable talent.”
Lowe — along with Grant Norman who played The Phantom on Broadway – will appear in the “Greatest American Broadway Review,” April 10 at 2 and 7 p.m. in Savannah Center. Doherty will conduct favorites from such shows as “Les Miz,” “Chicago” “The Phantom” and “Man of La Mancha.”
Lowe will be singing “Summertime,” from George Gershwin’s opera, “Porgy and Bess.”
“Singing opera is like competing in the Olympics,” Lowe, 32, said. “You work and prepare for years. Then you get one chance on stage to do it right. I was nervous and anxious when I sang in The Villages – it was my first big aria — singing live.”
You might say Lowe scored a touchdown that evening and earned a huge ovation.
“I have never felt more love in my entire life as I do now, and singing in the Villages is one of the reasons why,” she said. “The people in The Villages have been great to me.”
Here is a video of her performing:
How this one-time defensive back in the “Women’s Lingerie Football League (WLFL)” made it to the opera stage is quite a tale.
Lowe’s rise to reach her dream starts much earlier. It really begins in Parma, Ohio, where she said that she and her brother were the first African-Americans in an all-white school of about 700 students.
For Lowe, sports were the great equalizer.
“I was a jock; I loved the challenge and adventure of sports,” she said. “I tried out for teams and I never quit.”
Lowe moved on to play tennis for Ohio Dominican University. She earned the nickname “Thunder” for her blistering serves and athletic prowess.
Later, Lowe settled near Tampa, and lives there with her husband, Barry. In 2010, she joined the Tampa Breeze of the WLFL as a hard-hitting, 5-feet-3 inch, 140 pound, defensive safety.
The “lingerie” title was meant to lure a cable network and generate revenue. Lowe, who has strong religious faith, said the players were serious athletes, led by professional coaches.
“It’s not fair to judge the athletes by the name of the league,” she said. “There are very few opportunities for women in professional sports.”
Lowe added the team outfits were similar to NFL cheerleaders’ clothing. “There was nothing inappropriate,” she said. Lowe lasted two seasons before a severe concussion ended her football career.
Eventually, she landed a gig singing rock and R&B songs at a Tampa beach bar called The Bamboo Beer Garden. A friend there suggested she audition for an opera voice coach.
In Tampa, she worked with Maestro Mario Laurenti, a longtime opera singer and teacher. For the past five years, Lowe has been studying voice, as well as Italian language and culture. Most operas are in Italian.
“I’ve learned so much and my voice has grown so much,” Lowe said. “I love opera; it’s like sports – you have to train and give everything you have to it. You have to constantly cultivate your voice.”
Doherty describes Lowe’s voice as “lyrico spinto soprano.” That means she has a soprano voice that can hit easy high notes but also be “pushed” to achieve what Doherty calls, “dramatic climaxes without strain.”
“It’s a rare voice type and can be very exciting to hear,” Doherty said. “Moreover, Ashley is such an amazing presence on stage. Her acting ability is outstanding.”
Lowe displayed her talents in “The Marriage of Figaro.” She wore a billowy white gown, but moved with athletic agility. She commands the spotlight with her facial expressions and body language.
But it all comes down to the voice. Lowe possesses dynamic range and vocal power.
“I’m relatively new to opera; many singers study opera in college and have been performing for years,” Lowe said. “For me, right now, everything is an education.”
She treasures the opportunity to work with Doherty and the Central Florida Lyric Opera.
“I owe so much to Maestro Bill Doherty for the chances he has given me,” she said. “He is so passionate about opera.”
Lowe said her future goal is to perform operas in Europe and China. The woman, who used to sing rock songs in a bar, now hopes to tackle Verdi and Puccini on an opera stage.
And she will never drop the name Thunder.
“I like that name,” she said. “It exudes energy and excitement.”
Just like Ashley Lowe.