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Opera singer seeks a new magnum opus

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After 19 years as a professional opera singer, Betsy Bare is still passionate about music.

It's the nomadic lifestyle of a struggling artist with a low income and no health insurance that the 37-year-old Kanawha County native is ready to give up.

"I don't think that I can continue living without benefits and, at times, really struggling and working three, four different jobs to make a living . . . while you give so much to your art," Bare said. ". . . I'm 37 now, and I want home."

She moved back from her most recent residence, in New York City, to Charleston about a month ago.

Bare, originally from Alum Creek, started nursing school this week through a joint program of Charleston Area Medical Center and Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College.

Bare, who also goes by the stage name Elisabeth Baer, kept Charleston as her home base while she traveled throughout the United States for her art. She's lived many places -- from New York City to New Jersey, Indiana to Pittsburgh. Once, in the span of 13 years, she moved eight times.

"Sometimes I would be in a place for six months and I would just take a few suitcases, but other times you're there for a couple of years," she said. "So it's nice to keep a home base somewhere that feels like home because you're moving so much."

Bare decided to become an opera singer in high school after a voice teacher recognized her gift. She also considered nursing then, before getting scholarships for music. Her mother has been a nurse since 1966.

It was a few years ago, though, when her father, Jerry, became sick with cancer that sealed her decision to become a nurse. She came home to take care of him during the last months of his life.

"I think that experience, it proved that I could do what it took to be a nurse if I could be a caregiver for someone that I'm that close to " Bare said.

It also changed her priorities in life, she said.

"From that point on," she said, "I just felt the need to have more stability."

Bare isn't giving up music up entirely. She's helping Ronald Neal with the music ministry at Kanawha United Presbyterian Church, where she'll also be the alto section leader in the choir. The church also has a concert series, the Kanawha Forum, where Bare will do recital work.

Since moving back to Charleston, Bare said, she's experienced some culture shock. She misses the fast pace of the city. She's also getting used to driving everywhere, instead of taking buses and the subway.

She and her family are glad she's back.

"I've never had one person say one negative thing toward me making the decision to make this change in my life," Bare said.

Moving back to Charleston and changing careers wasn't the only big change Bare has made recently. She's also lost nearly 80 pounds -- 50 of them within the past year.

"I knew that I would need to be in good health condition to start this nursing program, because it's going to be a taxing experience," Bare said. "After struggling with my weight for years, I just made the decision I just didn't want to have that issue anymore."

Reading medical literature in preparation for graduate school reinforced her determination to lose weight and make her health a priority.

"I think, in the long run, that this is going to be a really, really smart decision, and it's one I'm very passionate about," she said of starting nursing school. "I'm very, very excited about this opportunity."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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