From studying opera in NY to comms: Christina Kingen

27 May 2024
Christina Kingen with her husband David

A chance meeting with her husband-to-be unexpectedly brought Christina to Australia. 

Christina Kingen, Senior Precincts Officer – Communications, grew up in a family of “high-achieving individuals” in Spokane in Washington State.  

“When I was about 10, I begged my mother to let me learn the piano. We went to musical theatre together and I fell in love with Phantom of the Opera. There was a ‘Christine’ in it with brown curly hair and I decided that I was really her. I was so inspired and took piano lessons and then singing lessons. I loved opera, musicals, folk and pop, I loved it all,” she said. 

It’s hard to imagine now, when you see Christina presenting to a room full of people, that she was an introverted and shy child who didn't speak up in school.  

“I found performing was a way to explore who I was by being other characters, it took the attention away from me. I loved performing in high school – I'd sing in assemblies and musicals. It’s such a passion. As I grew from a child and adolescent into my senior high school years and into university, I found a love of opera.” 

At the age of 18 Christina said she was ready to leave Spokane, and she attended Illinois Wesleyn University, a small liberal arts university south of Chicago. She did an undergraduate degree in vocal performance with minors in piano and English literature. 

“I don't have a magnificent voice but I worked very, very hard. During that time, I sang at the Aspen Music Festival, a prestigious summer program for young artists, and also in Rome (unpaid) for an opera company for six weeks,” Christina said.  

“At the end of my undergraduate degree, I was committed – this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I decided I needed to go into the big league, so I applied for all the prestigious conservatory programs in the US and was accepted into a master’s degree in opera performance at the Manhattan School of Music.”  

She moved to New York two weeks before September 11 which, Christina said, “coloured the experience” for her. 

“I realised I wasn’t invincible – I was fearful and a long way from family. I started to question how I was doing among all these amazing artists from all over the world.  

“It was also an eye-opener into the music business and how competitive it is. The passion that I could cultivate in a supportive environment was chipped away a little in New York.” 

A change in direction 

Halfway through her degree, friends from Chicago visited Christina and they had tickets to David Letterman. The friends struck up a conversation with an Australian in the queue who was on day three of a five-day visit to New York, and they invited him to dinner.  

“We hit it off, and he turned out to be my husband-to-be. Of course, we didn’t realise we would end up married with three kids and a dog,” Christina said.  

“Meeting David opened my eyes to a whole world outside music – to other things like sports, politics, world events and community issues. I wouldn’t have been able to talk about them before, I didn’t read newspapers because I was always in the practice room. He’s been a huge influence on the person I am today, and I still absolutely adore him.”  

After trips back and forth and completing her degree, Christina applied for a postgrad diploma in communications at University of Sydney and came to Australia on a student visa. She’s worked at UNSW for over a decade and feels passionately about connecting the University’s work in health with her local community.  

Christina said she sees the connection between what she did as an artist and what she does now as her love of storytelling. And while she doesn’t miss those days when she was singing, she does like to gather family and friends around the piano for a Christmas carol sing-along and is always up for karaoke.  

Can you tell us something about you that may surprise your colleagues? 

I passed a test to become a US diplomat but decided not to pursue it, because it’s not my passion. 

What's the best advice you ever received? 

When I graduated, the university president Professor Minor Myers Jr said: Go out in the world and do well, but more importantly, go out in the world and do good. 

What's one thing that makes you happy? 

Hiking the coast with my husband, watching the sun come up.   

What day in your life would you like to relive? 

Reconnecting with family post COVID on a trip to Grand Tetons National Park. 

What's the best thing you've watched in the last year? 

Taylor Swift concert.