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NYC business owner by day, opera singer by night



For close to 20 years, Karen Dixon has helped sort out what shoes are on the shelves at The Shoe Tree.

She runs the business in Morningside Heights with her husband. It was a dream of theirs to do something in their neighborhood.

What You Need To Know

  • Karen Dixon has been part of the Metropolitan Opera’s chorus for more than 25 years
  • She has also co-owned a children’s shoe store in Morningside Heights for nearly 20 years 
  • Sometimes she spends her days balancing both jobs

“There was no shoe store for kids above 84th Street,” she said, referencing the Upper West Side.

Her regulars may notice the soundtrack to the store is not kids’ music, but the opera.

“Some of them know,” she said with a smile.

They know that while Karen Dixon spends some days picking shoe sizes, her other home is the Metropolitan Opera.

For more than 25 years, she has graced their stage as a member of the chorus, where she is typically in 16 to 18 different operas a year.

“It keeps your mind fresh,” she said. “It keeps you learning new things.”

That means staying fresh in the eight languages she can sing in.

“We are constantly singing in another language, learning new staging, on our feet a lot, going back and forth between things,” Dixon said.

Some days, she is rehearsing as many as three different operas.

“I enjoy being on stage. I just enjoy changing up, learning new things all the time,” she said.

She fell in love with the Metropolitan Opera on her first trip to New York City when she was 19, and it changed her life. Almost immediately, she decided to leave the University of Richmond, transferring to the Manhattan School of Music.

“My parents from South Carolina were like, ‘you moving home?’ And I was like nope, not moving home. So I stayed,“ she said in an interview between rehearsals for the newest opera, The Hours.

Dixon’s early days in the city were a grind. She waited tables, walked dogs, cleaned apartments and performed in regional operas. She did this for 10 years. That’s when she got her break, debuting at the Met. One of a select few picked out of hundreds of applicants.

“I was lucky,” she said. “I was very lucky.”

It’s the same way she describes her work away from the Met. She sings praises for her husband, running the day in, day out of the store. It’s the only way they can make it work.

“Sometimes I used to be in rehearsal here [The Met], then run there [The Shoe Tree] and then come back to the show,” she said. “Sometimes on my day off from here, when I’m not working here, I will work a shift at the store, then pick up dinner and come in and do a performance.”

It hasn’t always been easy. The pandemic hurt the opera and the shoe store, and the recovery at the latter has been slower.

But the store is a dream she has built with her husband. Then there’s the dream she had since she was a 19-year-old on her first trip to New York City. She gets to live it now, day in and day out.

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