It was 2006. Angel Joy Blue was a 22-year-old student studying for her master’s degree in music at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Blue was cast as the lead in Puccini’s “Suor Angelica,” the story of a Catholic nun who harbors a tragic secret. It is an opera that requires a great deal of pathos and honesty to carry.

It was her first major opera production. Her first lead role. There was just one problem.

“I didn’t know anything about being a nun. All I had to go on was ‘Sister Act,’” Blue said, referencing the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. “I didn’t understand their vows, or why they were so devout, or what their lives meant.”

And so, Blue spent a week in a convent in North Hollywood. It was the kind of immersive experience that helped her understand the role that she would be performing.

“That was an amazing moment,” said Peter Kazaras, the director of Opera UCLA and distinguished professor of music, who directed Angel Blue in “Suor Angelica.” “It showed her dedication and diligence, for sure. But it also showed something deeper. Angel understood, even at the beginning of her formal training, that to be a great opera singer you have to give equal attention to acting and singing. They are the same thing.”

“They go hand in hand,” said Blue, who still fondly refers to Kazaras as her acting coach.

On Monday, Nov. 21, the school of music will welcome Blue home for a free recital at Schoenberg Hall. Blue, who received her master’s degree in 2008, is the featured artist of the inaugural Judith L. Smith Voice Recital Series, celebrating talented vocalists and made possible by a generous endowed gift from Smith, the school’s founding dean.

“I love UCLA,” said Blue, who is one of several shining jewels in the school’s 2022-23 season of events. “It was the best and worst time of my life. The worst time, because my dad died while I was a student there. But it was the best because I got to learn so much. Every faculty member there has something important to share with the students, and it’s up to the students to pay attention and learn.”

Since graduating, her career has been nothing short of phenomenal. After entering in the L.A. Opera’s Young Artist Program in 2007, she began the arduous journey of establishing a career. She soon made the world her stage, performing operas and recitals in more than 35 countries. She performed with the Vienna State Opera, the Semperoper Dresden, the English National Opera, and the Teatre alla Scala in Milan, the Seattle Opera and the San Francisco Opera.

In 2019, she opened the New York Metropolitan Opera’s season performing Bess in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” The production was lauded by critics and was so successful that the Met added additional performances, a first for the company.

On Nov. 19, Blue will reprise the lead role of Puccini’s “Tosca” with the L.A. Opera.

Blue says her only regret about her time at UCLA was that she didn’t take advantage of all the resources at the school of music. But her UCLA mentors aren’t buying that line.

“She worked with me as a private student for a year before she applied to UCLA,” said Juliana Gondek, distinguished professor of voice performance. “She had such immense talent. But she needed training. And she really applied herself.”

When Blue entered the program, she consistently distinguished herself. “Her voice really stretched out. She was able to knit together her registers, and sing with flexibility,” Gondek added.

“Angel was always a bright light in our voice program,” said Michael Dean, professor of voice performance at UCLA. “Her natural talent was always there, but Angel never ‘coasted’ on talent alone. As a student she did the hard work of constantly improving her skills, always growing and evolving as a singer.  She has continued to apply that approach in her professional career, finding new heights and discovering the next level of excellence she can reach as an artist.”

Blue’s ascendancy to the top of the opera world is not the end of her journey.

“I feel like my voice is showing me more of who it is,” Blue said. “When I was 21 at UCLA, I felt like my voice was a little wild. As I mature, I’m discovering more of my middle register, I’m controlling my voice better. As I’ve gotten older and matured a little bit, I feel like my voice is becoming more and more a representation of my own person.”