Classical opera and gold dredging couldn’t be further apart, but for 26-year-old Alaskan native, Emily Riedel, the two are equally closer to her heart. Emily has dreamed about becoming an international opera singer since studying vocal performance at the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts. But not being able to afford the next step in her training, lead her to dredge for gold as her means to an end. Now the only female cast member of Discovery Channel’s Bering Sea Gold, Emily is determined to one-day study opera in Vienna, Austria by earning enough money from dredging. Her vision and willpower, however, have never been more tested as the pursuit of gold has become much harder than expected.
Dredging for Gold in Nome, Alaska
It all started when she returned from college. Her friend and cast-mate, Zeke Tenhoff, convinced Emily and her father Steve that they could make good money dredging for gold in Nome, Alaska. Needing a short-term profitable job to enable her singing career, Emily tells MiLLENNiAL, “We were the only ones crazy enough to do it.” Originally from Homer, Alaska, she says the two towns could not be more opposite in nature. Emily explains, “Homer is this incredible part of Alaska, very rich and lush and tourists are attracted there in droves. And Nome is very much an off the grid, remote, isolated village.”
Once in Nome, Emily quickly discovered how difficult dredging was and just how passionate she had to be about opera in order to survive the extreme conditions. Her idea of a short-term profitable gig to get her to Vienna has since turned into a long-term and dangerous investment. “There is no method to this madness…the real name to this game is luck,” she admits. And while luck may not be on her side when it comes to the surplus of cash, Discovery Channel’s involvement in documenting her process is pretty lucky to say the least.
Landing on a Discovery Channel Hit Show
Emily tells us that while she was traveling back to Nome, she received a call about the show. The producers of Deadliest Catch were interested in chronicling the life of gold dredgers on the Bering Sea. Like most Alaskans, Emily is naturally protective of her homeland and didn’t want it being used for reality television. But having a deep respect for Deadliest Catch, she says, “I didn’t give it much more thought than ‘Why Not!’” And just like that she joined the cast.
While you’d think the exposure from singing on the show would help push her opera career forward, Emily says that it has not gotten her any closer and admits she wasn’t expecting anything to come from it. She believes that the opera snobs of the world would disapprove of her dredging and would rather see her doing something more practical like waiting tables while pursuing her craft. Even though she may not be any closer to Vienna, she does recognize that singing on the show helps reach out to people who would never be exposed to such culture.
Emily Riedel’s Love for Opera
In an era ran by electronic music, opera is struggling to be of interest to Millennials. But for enthusiasts like Emily, opera is what saves her sanity during these rough cold days in the snow. When it comes to influences, Emily gushes over her favorites, “Marilyn Horne is a goddess. Ana Moffo is perfection. Of course Pavarotti is an absolute necessity on a regular basis.” Not neglecting the talent that exists today, she says, “There are some incredible artists on the scene right now in the world and I hope that opera continues to be supported and sustained because it’s such a beautifully rich and expressive art form.”
With the hope of someday traveling the world to sing on international stages, Emily acknowledges she was initially unrealistic about her approach to gold mining. “It is so hard to actually leave here with a profit. You spend everything you have just to keep going,” she says. Just like gambling, dredgers often lose sight of the practicality of the situation and keep chasing the gold. Emily likes to remind people, “You don’t quit gold mining. Gold mining quits you.”
When discussing some of the challenges she faces, Emily says, “You’re fighting so many odds. The fact that you’re diving six feet under ice in 27 degree water, while trying to maintain and run your equipment in extreme temperatures – it’s a logistical nightmare. And we were living it everyday.” But it’s the rush of the score that keeps her going. “Sometimes I’ve fallen short and sometimes I have really achieved something.”
Being a Female Captain in a Male Industry
Now fully committed to dredging, Emily has bought her own commercial rig and is setting out to score big this season. “I have opera fever and I have gold fever,” she confesses. With the proper equipment positioning her to be the best, Emily’s fleet is prepared and anxious to start.
It’s not everyday you see a female captain dredging for gold. During her time both as crew and as a captain, Emily has overcome a lot of adversity as a woman in her field. Like most women, she wanted to be recognized for her skills as opposed to her gender. But Emily admits that mindset was a mistake and says, “When you’re undergoing a task in a male dominated field it’s really important to recognize that you are doing this as a woman.” She believes embracing her femininity while taking on these challenges will inspire other women to step outside of their comfort zones and be strong. Acknowledging the discrimination that exists in her industry, Emily says, “A woman should never be against herself. There is enough against her already.”