Q+A with Maria Sensi Sellner

Conductor Maria Sensi Sellner took a break from rehearsal to answer a few of our questions about her pre-performance rituals and more!


Q: What led you to pursue a career in music?

I actually did not, at first! I was involved in musical activities from a very early age. I had piano lessons from age five, (though I hated to practice!). In high school, I was in all of the choirs, played flute and piccolo in the band, and then was drum major for two years, and also helped to revive our school’s drama club. In college, I was a double major in Mechanical Engineering and Music Composition, and I did not intend to make music a career. My conducting mentor, Robert Page, gave the same speech to the freshman music majors every year⁠—saying if you can be happy doing anything else, go and do that. I fully intended to do so but discovered later that I really couldn’t be happy doing anything but music.  And so I went back to grad school, in composition and then conducting, and that’s where I discovered my great love for opera!  

Q: What non-musical activity do you enjoy doing on your downtime?

I run my own company in Pittsburgh, so downtime is very elusive! However, I am an avid knitter, and love to immerse myself in novels when there’s time. We also have a spunky two-year-old Havanese named Lucy, who keeps life fun and interesting!

Q: Do you have any pre-performance traditions?

I eat a banana before every show if possible (and another during intermission if there is one! That’s the “Act 2 banana”)

Q: How did you become involved with White Snake Projects?

I was introduced to Cerise in early 2018 and then met her in person a few months later. She told me about several of the operas that she had in the planning stages, including Dreamer. I was moved to tears by the story, and we began a longer conversation about how we could work together. Growing up, I always connected with the immigrant stories on both sides of my family, and this opera examines so many layers of meaning in personal relationships and in our society. I am privileged to be a part of such an important piece of art for our time.

Q: The cast of Dreamer is entirely female. Mother and daughter bonds, as well as strong female friendships, are portrayed. How does this resonate with you?

Opera was created to be an expression of the political times of the era. I can think of no better commitment to the opera world than being an advocate for social change and the betterment of humanity. I believe so strongly in White Snake Projects’ mission!