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Episodic Jamie Barton: Short A Singer’s Roots Evenings Opera

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W H ER E A R E OU R

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CONTENTS 3

Bright Ideas Shine Through the Fog By Marc A. Scorca

I N N OVAT I O N S

4 Voice Training for Tweens

6

8

Musical institutions get middle-schoolers to sing.

Episodic Operas

Serial works, on streaming video and in podcast, redefine the genre.

Opera Southwest Rescues Its Lohengrin

An ambitious production proceeds—despite a flooded venue.

10 People 12 Conversation

The power of mentorship

F E AT U R E S

24 Short Nights at the Opera

Standalone Pagliaccis and one-act contemporary works show that short can be sweet. By Fred Cohn

30 Audience Trends and Marketing Tactics A shifting audience landscape presents marketers with unprecedented challenges. By Doug Tuck

34 OA News 42 Publications 48 My First Opera

Sam Reiss

By Jamie Barton

16

O N T H E COV E R

Where Are Our Singers of Color? By Fred Cohn and Theresa Ruth Howard

O N T H E C O V E R Bass-baritone Jonathan Woody at OPERA America’s National Opera Center (photo: Sam Reiss)

SUMMER 2019  1


BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Michael Egel Des Moines Metro Opera

EX-OFFICIO MEMBERS

OFFICERS

Robert Ellis Trustee, San Francisco Opera

James M. Barton, National Opera Center Board of Overseers

Timothy O’Leary Washington National Opera

Anthony Freud Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christina Loewen, Opera.ca

Barbara Glauber Trustee, New England Conservatory

Alejandra Martí, Ópera Latinoamérica

CH A I R

Frayda B. Lindemann, Ph.D. Trustee, The Metropolitan Opera

Denyce Graves-Montgomery

Nicholas Payne, Opera Europa

VICE - CHAI R

Carol F. Henry Trustee, Los Angeles Opera

EMERITUS MEMBERS

Annie Burridge Austin Opera

Carol Lazier Trustee, San Diego Opera

IM M E DI ATE PAST CHA I R

Wayne S. Brown Michigan Opera Theatre

VICE - CHAI R

Laura Kaminsky VICE - CHAI R

Evan J. Hazell Trustee, Pacific Opera Victoria TREA S U R E R

Perryn Leech Houston Grand Opera SECR E TA RY

Marc A. Scorca PRES I DE N T/ CE O

MEMBERS John E. Baumgardner Jr. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP Ned Canty Opera Memphis Tassio Carvalho American Airlines Rena M. De Sisto Bank of America Larry Desrochers Manitoba Opera David B. Devan Opera Philadelphia Carol E. Domina Director, The Metropolitan Opera Trustee, Opera Omaha Peggy Kriha Dye Opera Columbus

Susan G. Marineau Trustee, The Santa Fe Opera Beth Morrison Beth Morrison Projects Zizi Mueller Boosey & Hawkes Ricordi NY John Nesholm Trustee, Seattle Opera Bill Palant Étude Arts Jane DiRenzo Pigott Trustee, Lyric Opera of Chicago Matthew Shilvock San Francisco Opera L. Michelle Smith no silos communications Jill Steinberg Trustee, National Sawdust

David Gockley

A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R

Nicholas Wise

NWise@operaamerica.org A DV E R T I S I N G M A N AG E R

Stephanie A. Carnright

DIRECTOR OF M ARKETING AND C O M M U N I C AT I O N S

NATIONAL OPERA CENTER BOARD OF OVERSEERS James M. Barton, CHA I R

Rolando G. Reyes Mir

RReyesMir@operaamerica.org

John E. Baumgardner Jr. Larry Bomback L. Henry Cox III Douglas Cuomo Margee M. Filstrup Jeanne Goffi-Fynn, Ed.D. Jane A. Gross Virginia Lauridsen Karen Kriendler Nelson Frederick W. Peters

Michael Scimeca, M.D.

Anthony Rudel

Jeri Sedlar Thurmond Smithgall Robert Tancer Barbara Augusta Teichert Darren K. Woods

The magazine of OPERA America — the national service organization for opera, which leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera 2  O P E R A A M E R I C A

michael@madevisiblestudio.com

SCarnright@operaamerica.org

Ryan Taylor Minnesota Opera

Carole Yaley Trustee, Central City Opera

A RT DIRECTION

Made Visible Studio

Susan F. Morris

Jane A. Robinson

Roger Weitz Opera Omaha

FCohn@operaamerica.org

Charles MacKay

Robert Tancer Trustee, Arizona Opera

Dona D. Vaughn Opera Maine Manhattan School of Music

EDITOR

Fred Cohn

Opera America (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in fall, winter, spring and summer. Copyright © 2019 by OPERA America. All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission. Editorial policy: The views expressed in this publication are those of the various authors for the purpose of encouraging discussion. Unless expressly noted, they do not reflect the formal policy, or necessarily the views, of OPERA America. To contact the editor, e-mail Editor@operaamerica.org. The presence of advertising implies no endorsement of the products or services offered. For advertising rates, visit operaamerica.org/ Advertising. OPERA America National Opera Center 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001 212.796.8620


Bright Ideas Shine Through the Fog Opera Conference 2019 proved the power of convening, as members from companies of all sizes from around the world gathered in San Francisco to learn from one another and gain energy from our collective commitment to opera. We learned that the city’s fog has a name — Karl — but that the “June gloom” of San Francisco couldn’t dull the spirit of OPERA America members. We were hosted magnificently by Matthew Shilvock and the entire staff of San Francisco Opera, who managed the conference and three productions with exceptional grace. The conference examined the dynamic forces shaping the field through three main topics. First, we looked at how to rebalance the allocation of our resources between tradition and innovation. It is not a question that can be answered the same way for everyone. Next, we investigated business innovation and the need for opera leaders to step back from the daily pressures of production and fundraising to determine what business practices are most appropriate for their own companies and communities. Third, a broad spectrum of choices shaped our discussion about building opera’s public value and the intersection of studio practice, social practice and civic practice. All these discussions underlined the increasing complexity of our operating environment, which requires us to develop new knowledge, skills and allies.  Conference sessions didn’t offer any simple solutions, but they charted a course for listening, learning and experimentation. An attendance record was set, with more than 750 registrants, including over 100 opera company trustees who were quick to appreciate the opportunity to hear about trends in the field and encounter successful practices from other companies. Thanks to a number of different grant programs, over 100 composers, librettists, directors and designers were also in attendance, ensuring that we consider the future of the art form from the perspective of the people who will create and interpret it in the years ahead. A cohort of Opera Teens representing OPERA America’s Teen Councils were hosted by San Francisco families committed to encouraging the next generation of artists and audiences. The worldwide reach of our art form was on full view. A delegation of colleagues from Ópera Latinoamérica introduced us to their companies and demonstrated their interest in collaborating with North American companies on co-productions of both the inherited repertoire and new Spanish-language works. They invited us to participate in their next conference in August in Montevideo, Uruguay, and reinforce the connections we are building. We heard from our European friends about the challenge of producing canonic works that audiences have seen repeatedly over the decades, and from Cape Town Opera (South Africa) about the importance of introducing audiences and aspiring singers to the traditional repertoire for the first time.  Once again, the interplay between global issues and national differences deepened our understanding of opportunities to advance the art form. More chances to gain insight and inspiration from colleagues fill the fall and winter. All nine OPERA America forums will meet in the months ahead, along with meetings hosted by Opera.ca, Ópera Latinoamérica and Opera Europa (see p. 40). We invite you to enrich these discussions — and be enriched by them. In the meantime, please mark your calendars for Friday, October 18, when we will launch our 50-year celebration of opera in America.

Marc A. Scorca President/CEO

SUMMER 2019  3


I N N OVAT I O N S

The “I Will Sing! ¡Cantare!” program at Houston Grand Opera

I

n a rehearsal studio on the 11th floor of Carnegie Hall’s Resnick Education Wing, Ken Noda, musical advisor to the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, leads a master class with a group of roughly three dozen New York City public school students. Four of them get to perform, valiantly. The quality of their singing of show tunes and arie antiche is variable — if there are any nascent Renée Flemings or Brian Stokes Mitchells in the group, it is not yet apparent — but Noda is unfailingly encouraging to each one, finding elements to praise while leading them toward a heightened connection to the material. What’s unusual about these kids is their age: These are not high school upperclassmen on a path to collegelevel vocal studies; instead, they’re all eighth graders. 4  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Like Carnegie Hall, a number of prominent musical institutions now offer vocal instruction, of one sort or another, to middle-school-aged children. The focus of these programs varies. Carnegie’s “Count Me In!” is specifically devised to help the students prepare audition pieces for the city’s ultracompetitive performing arts schools. “They want to be like their favorite pop stars,” says Margaret Fortunato, an associate in the organization’s youth programs department. “But even Beyoncé learned classical music at one point — she had to.” Pensacola Opera’s Youth Opera Camp seeks to develop an appetite for opera among kids aged 8 to 12. The immersive one-week experience leads them through the production of a 30-minute adaptation, with dialogue, of a mainstage title from the upcoming

season. The kids build the sets, make costumes and learn simplified versions of the arias. Many of the Youth Opera Camp participants do not know how to read music. But they work with faculty from the University of West Florida to learn the basics of performing vocal music. “The first thing is to make sure they know the words,” says Cody Martin, Pensacola Opera’s director of education. “Then there comes a point where we ask them, ‘What are you trying to say here? How would you speak it? How does that translate into singing?’” Martin says that the camp introduces a number of the students to singing, and some go on to children’s choruses. The five- to eight-year-olds in Seattle Opera’s spring-break “Maestros” camp write their own opera stories. This year’s theme, anticipating next season’s

Lynn Lane

T W EENS F I N D T H EI R VOIC ES


Carnegie Hall’s “Count Me In!” program

Stefan Cohen (Carnegie Hall); Meg Burke (Pensacola)

Pensacola Opera’s Youth Opera Camp

mainstage production of Cenerentola, was “Cinderella,” using musical adaptations of the fairy tale, from Rossini to Rodgers and Hammerstein. Meanwhile, the students of all ages in the company’s Youth Opera Project work through the school year toward the public performance of a youth opera in the spring. The nine- to twelve-year-olds in the “Crescendo” program, the Youth Opera Project’s intermediate chorus, present

a particular educational challenge, according to Sara Litchfield, manager of Seattle Opera’s youth and family programs. “It’s a time of transition — physically, mentally, vocally,” she says. “Insecurity plays a big role in what they are willing to do. If they feel insecure, it’s hard to get them out of their comfort zone.” The boys of that contingent face a special challenge, in that their voices are likely to change. “It’s so important

that they know their instruments so that when their voices change, they don’t lose that,” says Litchfield. “We want to make sure that we provide a safe space. A lot of boys in middle school don’t get that elsewhere.” Although Houston Grand Opera’s one-week summer program “I Will Sing! ¡Cantare!,” for students in grades four to nine, started as a feeder for the company’s children’s chorus, its mission has since changed. The focus is no longer vocal training per se, but the promotion of social-emotional learning. “A group of people coming together to sing is one of the healthiest things you can do,” says Carleen Graham, director of HGOco, the company’s communityengagement arm. “It’s a way of getting people to listen carefully –– not just to themselves, but to each other. This is a holistic way of educating children.” HGO has deliberately downplayed the word “opera” in its publicity for the program. “We don’t want people to look at it and say, ‘My kid has to love opera to do this,’” says Graham. “We want kids to see that it’s a fun way to spend time in the summer — that it’s really a camp. They need to go home every day singing songs and looking forward to the next day.” Formal vocal training is not part of the agenda for these programs. “Until the voice reaches a certain maturity, it’s not necessarily the best use of their time to have them take individual voice lessons,” says Anthony Trecek-King, president and artistic director of the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC). “But you can start to instill good habits, like breath support and vowel formation, so that when they’re ready to take voice lessons, they have a foundation to build upon.” The BCC’s various programs include singers from the age of 7 to 18, with its Intermediate Choirs reaching students aged 10 to 14. A number of BCC alumni have gone on to further vocal study –– among them, mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, currently on the roster of the Bavarian State Opera –– but that is not the organization’s main mission. “My goal is to get them to be lifelong singers,” Trecek-King says. “Sure, anybody can open their mouth and make sound. But to sing well is a challenge. I want them to understand what the voice is capable of doing.” – Fred Cohn SUMMER 2019  5


I N N OVAT I O N S

AMERICAN COMPOSERS EDITION

Michelle Johnson as Elsa and Claudia Chapa as Otrud

OPERAS CHAMBER OPERAS DRAMATIC VOCAL WORKS ARIAS

Nancy Van de Vate

JANE EYRE

Louis Karchin

FREDERICK DOUGLASS Dorothy Rudd Moore

FORTUNATO

Miriam Gideon

THE MARQUISE OF O Elizabeth R. Austin

UNTIL THE WAR IS OVER Beth Wiemann

THE DEATH OF WEBERN Michael Dellaira

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON John Eaton

TREEMONISHA BY SCOTT JOPLIN

T.J. Anderson, Orch.

WHITE WITCH

Brian Schober

TWELFTH NIGHT

Peter Westergaard

ZHAOJÜN - THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD Alice Shields

RAPUNZEL

Richard Brooks

ACA

AMERICAN COMPOSERS ALLIANCE INC. INFO@COMPOSERS.COM 212-568-0036

8  O P E R A A M E R I C A

T

he circumstances were comic. The outcome? Not so much. On March 10, a security guard working the graveyard shift at Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center, along with some buddies, began shooting guns from the facility’s balcony and then holed up in a mechanical room to smoke (for some unimaginable reason) simulated joints made of rags and weeds. The “doobies” set off a small fire, which in turn activated the building’s sprinkler system. When fire officials were called in, the guard told them everything was under control. Indeed, the fire was under control — but the sprinklers were not. They continued running for the next several hours, causing $500,000 worth of damage and rendering the venue unusable for weeks to come. This presented a huge problem for Opera Southwest, which makes its performing and administrative home in the NHCC, and was due to mount Lohengrin there at the end of the month. The production, which had received NEA funding, was slated to be the company’s most ambitious venture yet, incorporating a reconstruction of the 38-piece orchestration that Franz Liszt conducted at the work’s 1850 Weimar premiere. It was probably too late to call the whole thing off — tickets had been sold and the cast was due to arrive in Albuquerque the next evening. “We sat down and weighed the options — the cost of canceling, the cost of switching to another venue,” says Tony Zancanella, the company’s executive director. “If the fire had been

a week earlier, there might have been more logic to canceling. But landing when it did, it was a case of ‘the show must go on.’” The company quickly identified a new venue for the performances: the V. Sue Cleveland Concert Hall in suburban Rio Rancho. With the opera company’s offices out of commission, staffers worked out of a donor’s living room to accomplish the herculean task of moving Lohengrin to its new space. Nearly 1,000 tickets had been sold, and all of those patrons had to be re-ticketed or reimbursed. The company got much-appreciated support from the community and a Facebook fundraising campaign; good wishes poured in from general directors and artists across the country. “You can do anything under pressure,” Zancanella says. After three intense weeks of 12- to 16-hour work days, Opera Southwest opened its Lohengrin on March 29. It was a sterling effort, but it involved compromise. Lohengrin had been planned as a fully staged production, but Cleveland Concert Hall couldn’t accommodate the sets; instead, it was offered as a costumed concert opera. The change of venue entailed new dates, and the opera’s run was cut from three performances to two. The rescheduling cost Lohengrin some attendees, and so did Rio Rancho’s locale, roughly 25 miles outside of Albuquerque. “We took a beating at the box office,” Zancanella admits. “But a couple of months out, I don’t think about the disappointment. We really accomplished something.” 

Lance W. Ozier

OPER A SOUTHWEST R E S C U E S WA S H E D - O U T LOHENGRIN

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT


Photos courtesy of Bunn Hill Photo

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T R CITIES O ERA


TRANSITIONS Justin Brown has been named vice president and general manager of the Aspen Music Festival and School.

Gentilcore

Opéra de Montréal has hired Catherine Gentilcore as its new director of marketing.

Scott Guzielek, formerly director of artistic operations at Palm Beach Opera, has been named Guzielek vice-president and general manager of the Academy of Vocal Arts. Guzielek was a participant in OPERA America’s 2012 Leadership Intensive. At Mill City Summer Opera, Cory Johnson has been promoted from director of development to executive director. Stephen Lord has resigned from his posts as Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ music director emeritus and Michigan Opera Theatre’s principal conductor, following allegations of sexual harassment. He also stepped down from

his conducting duties for Opera Maine’s July production of The Magic Flute.

director of Raylynmor Opera in Keene, New Hampshire.

San Francisco Opera has established a new department of diversity, equity and community, Mc Neal and has appointed Charles Chip Mc Neal, currently senior curriculum and program manager, as the department’s first director.

Tri-Cities Opera has named John Rozzoni, who previously served in marketing and community engagement roles with the company from 2013 to 2017, as its new executive director.

Conductor Francesco Milioto has joined Florentine Opera Company as artistic advisor, a role in which he will provide input on casting, creative team selection and the recruitment of singers for the company’s young artist program. Hawaii Opera Theatre has appointed Andrew Morgan, formerly director of development at San Morgan Francisco Opera, as its executive director. Marco Nisticò has taken up the post of general director at Opera on the James. Opera Ithaca has engaged Benjamin Robinson as its artistic director, beginning in the 2019–2020 season. Robinson retains his post as artistic

Mitra Sadeghpour, one of the protegées in the initial cohort of OA’s Mentorship Program for Women, has been named education director at Minnesota Opera. (See “Mentor & Protegée, p. 12.) At Palm Beach Opera, David Walker has been promoted from managing director to general director, Walker replacing Daniel Biaggi, who will step down on October 15. Biaggi will continue as a strategic and artistic adviser to the company.

KUDOS Leontyne Price was given the Lifetime Price Castronovo Achievement Award at the International Opera

Coastal Click Photography (Guzielek), San Francisco Opera (Mc Neal), Hawaii Opera Theatre (Morgan), Coastal Click Photography (Walker), Henry Grossman (Price), Katerina Goode (Castronovo)

P E O P L E

The Italian opera, film and theater director Franco Zeffirelli died on June 15 at age 96. Zeffirelli made his American opera debut in 1957 when he staged L’italiana in Algeri for the newly formed Dallas Civic Opera (now The Dallas Opera), returning to the company the following year to direct Maria Callas in La traviata. Among his other early successes in the U.S. was his 1961 An onstage tribute to Franco Zeffirelli at the Met, staging of Lucia di Lammermoor, starring with (left to right) Rosalind Elias, Paul Plishka, Angela Joan Sutherland, at Lyric Opera of Gheorghiu, Zeffirelli, Justino Diaz and Peter Gelb Chicago. He is perhaps best remembered stateside for his opulent productions for the Metropolitan Opera, starting with his 1964 Falstaff, which remained in the company’s repertoire for four decades; his other Met productions include La bohème (1981), Tosca (1985), Turandot (1987) and Carmen (1996). He directed a string of film adaptions of operas in the 1980s, including the 1982 La traviata with Teresa Stratas and Plácido Domingo. In 2002, Zeffirelli released his final film, Callas Forever, a fictionalized biopic on the twilight of Maria Callas’ career.

10  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Jerry Clack, chair of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s board of directors, died on April 15 at age 92. During his more than 15 years on the board, Clack underwrote a series of lesserknown operas by Richard Strauss and championed a multiyear initiative to produce works centered on Pittsburgh’s African American communities. From 1968 until his retirement in 2011, Clack was a professor of classics at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University and published widely on Hellenistic poetry. In 2017, he was honored with a National Opera Trustee Recognition Award from OPERA America.

Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

IN MEMORIAM


Jonathan Tichler/Met Opera (Oropesa), Jiyang Chen (Kasanders), Andy Poon (Grist), Vern Evans (Adams), Stephanie Blythe (Blythe), Met Opera Archives (Malas)

Awards, held April 9 in London. Among the other honorees was American tenor Charles Castronovo, named Male Singer of the Year. Soprano Lisette Oropesa has been awarded both the Beverly Sills Artist Award from the Oropesa Metropolitan Opera and the Richard Tucker Award from Richard Tucker Music Foundation. Each award carries a prize of $50,000. She will be featured in the annual Tucker Foundation gala on October 27 at Carnegie Hall. The winners of this year’s Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, each receiving $15,000, are baritone Thomas Glass, tenor Miles Mykkanen, bass William Guanbo Su, soprano Elena Villalón and mezzo-soprano Michaela Wolz. At this year’s Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, soprano Meghan Kasanders took the firstKasanders place prize of $10,000, baritone Reginald Smith Jr. won the

Bass Spiro Malas died on June 23 at age 86. He was a regular presence at New York City Opera Malas (1960–1981) and the Met (1988–1990) in myriad roles, including Mozart’s Figaro, the Sacristan in Tosca and Frank in Die Fledermaus. He toured Australia with the soprano-conductor team of Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, and appeared in their Decca recordings of Semiramide, La fille du régiment and L’elisir d’amore. In 1992, he starred to great acclaim in a Broadway revival of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella. The Canadian costume and scenic designer Martha Mann, who worked

second-place price of $5,000, and tenor Christopher Oglesby received the thirdplace price of $2,500. Soprano Reri Grist was given an honorary doctorate by Queens College, her alma Grist mater, at the school’s commencement ceremony on May 30. At its May 17 commencement ceremony, the San Francisco Conservatory of Adams Music gave an honorary doctorate to composer John Adams. Fedora, a Paris-based competition supporting new opera and ballet, gave its top prize of 150,000 euros to Opera Philadephia for Philip Venables and Ted Huffman’s Denis & Katya, slated to premiere at this fall’s O19 festival. The Dallas Opera named mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe its Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Blythe for her company debut as Mistress Quickly in Falstaff this spring.

for six decades in theater, film, television and opera, died on May 27 at age 80. In the 1990s and early 2000s, she created costumes for Boston Lyric Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival and New York City Opera, and more recently, for Toronto-based Opera Atelier’s The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Der Freischütz. Paul J. Pelkonen, creator and editor of the blog Superconductor, died on June 12 at age 46. Pelkonen reviewed hundreds of New York City-area classical music events, including performances by the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera and the city’s many independent opera companies.

To submit items for potential inclusion in Transitions and Kudos, or to share any news about your company, e-mail PressReleases@operaamerica.org.

Arts ATL, a publication covering Atlanta’s arts scene, gave a Luminary Award to The Atlanta Opera in recognition of its initiatives for military veterans, including its free ticket program. The Luminary Awards honor members of Atlanta’s creative community for their social impact, diversity, innovation, leadership and generosity. The Dallas Opera announced the participants in this year’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors: Tiffany Chang, Jiannan Cheng, Tamara Dworetz, Marta Kluczyńska, Madeline Tsai and Molly Turner. The six conductors, hailing from the U.S., Asia and Europe, will take part in a two-week residency at TDO this fall. They will be joined by Kristen Bigham, gift planning associate at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Beverly Love, associate at Wilbanks Partners, and Suzanne Vinnik, founder of Shoperatic, who will take part in a parallel career-development residency for opera administrators. The Hart Institute is supported, in part, by a 2018 Innovation Grant from OPERA America.

Mark Richter, founding general and artistic director of Alamo City Opera in San Antonio, Texas, died on April 28 at age 51. Richter began his career as a tenor before founding his first company, Pocket Opera of San Antonio (later known as San Antonio Opera), in the mid-1990s. In 2012, he established Piccola Opera, which later became Alamo City Opera, with a mission of presenting small-scale opera experiences. Richter produced more than 80 works over the course of his career, as well as brought boldface names like Plácido Domingo and Patti Lupone to San Antonio. Following Richter’s death, the board of Alamo City Opera decided to close the company.

S U M M E R 2 0 1 9   11


C O N V E R S AT I O N

MENTOR & PROTÉGÉE

12  O P E R A A M E R I C A


O

PERA America’s Mentorship Program for Women teams emerging female administrators with established leaders. At the 2019 Backstage Brunch at the National Opera Center, career coach Astrid Baumgardner led a discussion with one of the initial pairs of participants: Stacy Brightman, vice president of education and community engagement at LA Opera, and Mitra Sadeghpour, who was recently appointed education director at Minnesota Opera after being director of opera at the University of Northern Iowa. ASTRID BAUMGARDNER: We’ve all heard about the Mentorship Program for Women, and now we’re going to find out what really went on in that first year. Before we get into details, I’d like you both to describe your career trajectories. Mitra?

Mitra Sadeghpour, Astrid Baumgardner and Stacy Brightman at OPERA America’s Backstage Brunch

MITRA SADEGHPOUR: I’m a farm girl. I grew up in Martelle, Iowa, a town of 238 people. It was a place like in Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land: I remember looking out at the horizon and thinking, “What’s out there?” The town valued football, but my family valued education. My mom was a science teacher, and she nurtured young women to go on in science. That part of Iowa is filled with Department of Natural Resources officers, and a lot of them are women who got jobs in the sciences because of my mom. I went on to get all my degrees in performance, but I knew that I really wanted to be in education, mentoring women in this field.

Anne-Michèle Mallory

BAUMGARDNER: Stacy, you come from a very different background.

Stacy Brightman and Mitra Sadeghpour — one of the inaugural teams in OA’s Mentorship Program for Women — discuss their shared challenges and opportunites.

STACY BRIGHTMAN: My childhood was almost the complete opposite. I grew up on Rampart Boulevard in the middle of Los Angeles. I had a single mother, and we had a very, very low income — let’s say it was poverty. My mother only got up to the ninth grade before she had to leave school, but she had this extraordinary understanding S U M M E R 2 0 1 9   13


16  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Sam Reiss

Bass-baritone Jonathan Woody


W H ER E A R E OU R SI NGERS OF COLOR? African American and Latinx singers can face disproportionately large obstacles in their progress toward a career. An OPERA America project seeks to uncover contributing factors — and work toward solutions.

S U M M E R 2 0 1 9   17


PART 1 of 2 PAT H S T O A CAREER WHAT DO SINGERS OF COLOR ENCOUNTER? By Fred Cohn

F

or the past three generations, African American and Latino singers have figured prominently on the American opera landscape. You need only consider the brilliant careers of Martina Arroyo, Justino Díaz and Leontyne Price or, today, Lawrence Brownlee, Ana María Martínez, Ailyn Pérez and Eric Owens, to name just a few. Still, the fact remains that singers of color are underrepresented on American opera stages. One chief reason is that artists of color are more likely than Caucasians to face roadblocks on their paths toward an opera career. OPERA America has instituted a project to address this inequity. As a starting point, the organization, with support from the Howard Gilman Foundation, has sought to identify “barriers”: the points along the path to a career in opera that may prevent a singer of color from moving forward. The first phase of the project has focused primarily on New York State and, in particular, New York City: an area rich in arts high schools, colleges with music curricula, and conservatories, while also the national nexus for artist managers and casting directors. The initial documentation phase consisted of interviews with representative figures at every level of the discovery, training and employment process: a racially diverse group of educators, opera administrators and

18  O P E R A A M E R I C A

singers, along with interested observers. They offered their thoughts about the various stages all singers pass through before establishing themselves in careers: starting with issues of acculturation; moving on to structures within public schools, colleges and graduate-level educational institutions; and then addressing the pressures in early stages of a singing career that may affect singers of color particularly. Using these findings as a basis, OA convened a meeting on March 26, drawing in a wide range of industry participants (see p. 21). Many participants believed that one key issue is, to a large extent, an economic one. The path to an opera career may well be as forbidding for a disadvantaged young white person as a black person in the same economic bracket. But since New York’s black and Latino populations in general experience more economic hardship than its white population, economic barriers disproportionately “constrict” access to a career among potential singers of color. Still, not all of the barriers are economic. The art form’s lack of success in connecting with audiences of color creates a self-perpetuating system, in that African American and Latino children will typically have no early introduction to opera. “It’s a miracle that my family even knows what opera is,” says Alaysha Fox, a finalist in the Met’s National Council Auditions and an African American native of Queens. The soprano reports that her early environment not only lacked opportunities for arts participation; it actively discouraged exploration. “You could get teased by the kids in my neighborhood,” she says. “It’s a place where even reading is considered nerdy and troublesome.” Even if young people of color do experience opera, they encounter a world that seems to exclude them, with sparse representation of people who look like them. Rebekah Diaz, a Latina soprano and civic-engagement consultant from the Bronx, made her first trip to the opera during high school, when a teacher took her to a Met dress rehearsal. But it wasn’t until she was a graduate student at Manhattan School of Music that she saw a Latino singer — Ramón Vargas in the Met’s Roméo et Juliette — on any stage. “That feeling of exclusion colors everything I do now,” she says.


New York City does offer opera-education opportunities in primary and secondary school, but they’re unequally distributed. The Metropolitan Opera Guild’s “Students Compose Opera,” “Urban Voices” and “Access Opera” programs introduce children to various aspects of opera, but they come with fees that public schools in low-income neighborhoods may be unwilling or unable to meet. “Yes, it’s affordable and doable,” says Stuart Holt, the Guild’s director of school programs and community engagement. “But you have to look at a public school’s budget and all the things they have to serve. Some of the students don’t have basic life necessities. They need free or reduced-price lunches. They have a hard time getting to school from home. This makes it super challenging for a school to find the money for an arts program.” Melissa Wegner, executive director of the Met’s National Council Auditions, thinks the field as a whole should be doing more to reach high school students of color. “The industry needs to look at arts high schools, especially in urban areas,” she says. “We’ll hear [at the auditions] a great singer of color who’s 25 or 26, but they’ve started their serious training a little later than others. Let’s identify that talent before they’re undergraduates.” The usual pattern, though, is that a teacher is the decisive factor, serving as a mentor to draw a young person’s attention to opera. Fox was singing in a church choir when a schoolteacher spotted her talent and encouraged her to think about opera. Rebekah Diaz was at a Bronx high school when her teacher brought her to the Met. “When students decide on a career in music, it’s often because of choral teachers or band teachers who get them to see music is something you can do,” says Kirk Severtson, a member of the voice faculty at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.

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ven for young people of color who have the talent and awareness to consider an opera career, its potential risks may prove insurmountable. “When you consider the years of training it takes and the uncertainty of a young artist’s career, it tends to attract people from privileged backgrounds,” says Douglas Beck, director of Carnegie Hall’s Artist Training Programs. “They have the resources to fall back on.” “I came from a very, very poor neighborhood, and three generations of us

lived in the same apartment building,” says Diaz. “Nobody left; nobody went to college. Your mother grew up here, and she might have been a secretary. So that is what you were going to be.” While Diaz earned her mother’s support for her decision to go into opera, she realizes: “I was lucky.” Cultural obstacles, as well, may keep people of color from gravitating toward opera. It remains an overwhelmingly white realm, which can make it seem forbidding to prospective singers of color. “Throughout the classical music field, the issue is the extent to which the work itself feels relevant and welcoming to communities of color,” says Beck. Navigating a predominantly white space as a racial minority adds emotional labor: Black and Latino/a artists often have to wade through conversations in organizations that are not yet ready to shift their culture toward greater inclusivity. Edward Berkeley, a faculty member in Juilliard’s voice studies department, notes the sparse representation of people of color on conservatory voice faculties. It’s a self-perpetuating void, in that it keeps the field from attracting new generations of African Americans and Latinos. “It affects the way things work,” he says. Berkeley is a director at the Aspen Opera Center, where he notes the presence of African American tenor Vinson Cole on the faculty has proved a magnet for potential students of color. “It can be frightening to venture out,” says Timothy Long, director of opera at the Eastman

“Throughout the classical music field, the issue is the extent to which the work itself feels relevant and welcoming to communities of color.” — DOUGL A S BECK , ARTIST TR AINING PROGR A MS , C ARNEGIE HALL

S U M M E R 2 0 1 9   19


School of Music. Long likens the “codeshifting” that opera demands of singers of color to his own efforts, as an Oklahoma-born Native American, to adjust to the culture of the overwhelmingly Eastern and white classical-music world. “You have to feel comfortable in that world,” he says. “If you aren’t secure about any of that, it’s difficult to make gains.” Long’s observation points to an undoubted inequity, placing the burden for adaptation on the artist of color rather than on the field itself.

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isparities in preparedness skew the college admissions process. In order to apply to the undergraduate opera program at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, for instance, students must have experience singing in different languages and must memorize pieces of classical repertoire for their auditions. “The requirements presume that the students have access to that kind of preparation, and shuts the door to people who don’t,” says Kirk Severtson. The school is looking at ways it can counteract the implicit bias of its admission process. Still, Severtson warns, students who enter with little previous familiarity with opera may find themselves floundering when faced with the school’s rigorous academic requirements. That was Diaz’s experience when she entered Carnegie Mellon as the only Latina student in the undergraduate voice program. “There were so many things I was deficient in,” she says. “I had to spend every morning in remedial studies. A lot of my colleagues had gone to private schools and had voice teachers since they were 11. You have to work so hard to be at the same level, I thought I’d never catch up. I spent much of my time feeling I didn’t belong.” Diaz notes about her conservatory days: “Every summer when my classmates would go to Italy for pay-to-sing programs, I’d be working a part-time job moving furniture.” Darren K. Woods, as artistic director of the tuition-based Seagle Music Colony in the Adirondacks, grapples with this very issue. Many of Seagle’s artists get scholarships toward the fee; some even get plane tickets courtesy of the colony’s donors. But that hardly erases the financial burden of the summer. “If you’re paying just half, that’s still about $2,700,” Woods says. “Even if you’re

20  O P E R A A M E R I C A

getting full freight, if you aren’t working over the summer, you still have to worry about where to find money to pay rent in the coming months.”

T

he economic stresses imposed by an opera career do not magically dissipate once a singer nears her or his goal. Alaysha Fox bemoans the expenses involved in launching a career: coaching, lessons, audition fees, travel and the taboo against letting judges see you in the same dress twice, highlighting a special burden placed on women of color. As for Diaz, she is still paying off “astronomical debt” from student loans incurred years ago. Aside from economic factors, an insular circle of relationships within the field also impedes diverse representation. When singers of color come up for auditions or competitions, they will find themselves face to face with panels that, like voice faculties, are mostly made up of white people. Wegner acknowledges that her own professional network lacks representation by people of color. Singers may still face racism in the casting process. Diaz recalls being cast in a studentmade production as a “feisty, slutty character, because I was the one Latina.” Later on, she had an easier time getting cast in the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda than in other repertoire. Some African American singers often encounter the same thing: They’re ghettoized in Porgy and Bess, finding difficulty in crossing over into other operas. “If I sing a Jake in Porgy,” says baritone Jorell Williams, “I let them know I’d also like to be cast as Mercutio or Papageno.” In theory, the industry supports the notion of color-blind casting wholeheartedly, and it has in fact expanded opportunities. But much remains to be done. The issue is not simply one of equity, but also of making opera reflect our own times. “People under 45 have grown up seeing interracial couples and diverse casting on TV,” notes Wegner. “If they don’t see diversity on stage, it can seem really weird to them. If we don’t have a diverse industry, we can’t move forward.” 


OPERA AMERICA

OP E R A C ONFERENCE 2020

May 13–16 | Seattle Hosted by

SAVE THE DATE for OPERA AMERICA’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY CONFERENCE


THE

CLOWN

24  O P E R A A M E R I C A

STANDS


BY FRED COHN

A spate of standalone Pagliaccis shows that audiences welcome short evenings at the opera.

Sean Davis

ALONE John Pickle as Canio in Opera Memphis’ 2015 Pagliacci

S U M M E R 2 0 1 9   25


agliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana were both new works in 1893, when they were first performed together at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. The pairing stuck: The Metropolitan Opera took it up later that year, and for most of their history, the two 75-minute verismo operas have routinely formed a double bill, known in operatic shorthand as “Cav and Pag.” But in recent years, American opera companies have increasingly mounted Pagliacci shorn of its mate — and found that it works just fine on its own. “Why do Pagliacci alone?” asks Esther Nelson, general and artistic director of Boston Lyric Opera. “An equally interesting question is: Why were they coupled in the first place?” The spate of standalone Pagliaccis — like the one that BLO will offer this fall — isn’t due to sheer happenstance. Instead, it speaks to the current exigencies of opera production, and to rapid changes in audience taste. For many years, companies felt compelled to produce shows that were lavish not only in production values and performing forces, but also in length. Nelson points out that the Metropolitan Opera, which has given “Cav” with “Pag” more often than not, has historically relied on subscriptions to sell tickets: a model that depends on “the idea of operas of equal value.” While Cavalleria and Pagliacci, performed in tandem, offered a perceived value commensurate with other operas in a subscription bundle, each on its own might in the past have seemed too stingy an offering. Even going to a large venue and being held Salome, which now is considered a captive for a three-hour performance.” sufficiently ample night at the theater, “There’s so much competition for our was until the 1960s routinely given eyes and ears,” says Ethan Heard, coas part of a double bill at the Met — founder of Heartbeat Opera, explaining sometimes paired with Pagliacci. his company’s stripped-down versions But for today’s audiences, a short of the classics. “The whole world is evening does not necessarily offer saturated with content. People have less short value; instead, many audience patience. It’s a reality that audiences are members actively welcome the attention-less; we believe in cultivating idea of keeping things brief. Some their attention.” independent opera companies, like “Every time I bring friends to see New York’s Heartbeat Opera, offer shows, the first thing they ask is, abridged, intermission-less adaptations ‘How long is it?’” says producer Beth of standard repertoire. Contemporary Morrison. “We live in a fast-paced media operas, like Gregory Spears and Kathryn world. We’re used to multitasking, so Walat’s Paul’s Case and Missy Mazzoli concentrating on something for more and Royce Vavrek’s Proving Up, quite than an hour and a half isn’t easy to do often clock in under the 90-minute anymore.” Morrison’s under-90-minute mark. offerings include Paul’s Case, David T. The phenomenon is in part a response Little’s Soldier Songs, David Lang and to the seismic shifts in the way we now Mark Dion’s Anatomy Theater, and Du consume entertainment. “Attention Yun and Vavrek’s Angel’s Bone. spans are shorter,” says Roger Weitz, “Some of my best experiences have general director of Opera Omaha, which been durational pieces, like [Philip presented a standalone Pagliacci last Glass’ five-hour] Einstein on the Beach season. “The onslaught of media means and Robert LePage’s Lipsynch, which that people have the ability to get what lasted nine hours,” Morrison says. “But they want on demand, when they you make a choice to do something like want it. They want the range of options that. There’s something to be said for they have at home with their remote seeing Parsifal, but you can’t do it every controls, rather than being limited to day.”

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Nashville Opera’s 2011 Pagliacci, with Todd Thomas as Tonio

“Pagliacci gives you everything you want from an evening of opera. It’s all killer, no filler.” — N E D C A N T Y, O P E R A M E M P H I S


ashville Opera first offered a standalone Pagliacci in 2003. “When you pair it with Cavalleria, that’s a lot of angst for one evening,” says John Hoomes, the company’s CEO and artistic director. “Some audience members, if they aren’t already versed in opera, don’t expect them to be paired. We have a younger and, thank god, a growing audience, and if we do a piece that stretches on for three hours or more, it makes for too long an evening. People comment on that.” The Nashville staging inserted an intermission between Pagliacci’s two short acts. “Unlike Cavalleria, Pagliacci is constructed so well that it works as a two-act piece,” says Hoomes, who directed the production, which was revived in 2011 and has also been

Reed Hummell

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mounted at Lake George Opera and Alberta Opera. “Doing it this way, it feels like a full-length opera.” Opera Ithaca’s decision to present Pagliacci on its own was hardly about saving the cost of mounting Cavalleria, according to Board President Barry Chester. “We were focusing on the one thing that would be most successful,” he says. “Nobody in the audience said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not getting value for my money.’” “Pagliacci gives you everything you want from an evening of opera,” says Ned Canty, general director of Opera Memphis, where in 2015 he staged the opera as a solo offering. “It’s all killer, no filler.” As a way of fleshing out the evening, the company offered a “Neapolitan feast” in the theater lobby afterward, featuring food stalls, strolling minstrels

and acrobats from the show. “It was a way to give people a fuller evening, if they didn’t have to get home to relieve the babysitter,” Canty says. Boston Lyric Opera will take a similar approach when it mounts its upcoming Pagliacci at a skating rink. Audience members will enter into a country fair, with circus performers and food trucks, before they’re invited into a circus tent for the opera itself. Opera Ithaca turned its own Pagliacci into a full-evening experience by staging the work at Circus Culture, a local circus school, using its acrobats and clowns along with the Cirque du Soleil juggler Sean Blue. The performances sold out, and the production was transferred to The Slipper Room in New York City. The idea of embedding a relatively short musical offering within an immersive audience experience falls in line with the findings revealed in “Building Millennial Audiences: Barriers and Opportunities,” a 2017 report from the Wallace Foundation. The study of the cultural-consumption preferences of the under-40 set revealed that Millennials gravitate toward “complete experiences”: evenings that combine a performance with food, drinks and the chance of socializing. That finding falls in line with the conception for “The Angel’s Share,” a series of compact classical music programs — including a selection of composer Gregg Kallor’s vocal works and a Dido and Aeneas with Daniela Mack — given in the catacombs of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. The evenings start with cocktails at the cemetery’s main gate and then continue with a walk through the gravestones to the catacombs themselves before the performance starts. “It puts people in a mindset to

S U M M E R 2 0 1 9   27


OA

N E W S W H AT W O N I S READING

F E M A L E L E A D E R S H I P AT P R O F E S S I O N A L C O M PA N Y MEMBERS

2015

In a brainstorming session at the regional meeting, WON compiled a list of resources for women in the arts, including the books that they’ve found most useful in their careers.

2019 Budget 1

(Annual budget over $15 million):

1 of 15

Budget 2

Laura Lee Everett

Dare to Lead By Brené Brown

(Annual budget $3–15 million):

Change Agents

6 of 27

“W

hen you walk into any room, be mindful, look around and ask yourself, ‘Who is represented here?’” said Laura Lee Everett, OA’s chief programs officer, at an April 6 meeting of the Women’s Opera Network (WON), a group founded by OA in 2015 to help establish gender parity in the opera field. “If we don’t see ourselves in the art that we consume, we’re not going to draw joy from it.” Everett’s words set the tone for the gathering, which brought together female administrators and artists (and male allies) from across the Northeast Corridor for WON’s very first regional meeting, held at OA’s National Opera Center in New York City. Much of WON’s activities take place virtually, on its Facebook group boasting 1,900 members, but the meeting at the Opera Center provided an important opportunity for group members to meet face to face and brainstorm. It also provided the occasion to share some good news. Everett presented data collected by OA’s research department that revealed a recent increase in the number of women holding general director or equivalent positions at OA’s Professional Company Members — from 34 percent women-led companies in 2015 to 46 percent women-led companies today. Of the women appointed to leadership positions in the past year, five are alumni of OA’s Leadership Intensive, a career-development program offered each year to promising opera professionals.

2 of 9

Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance By Angela Duckworth

7 of 25

Budget 3

Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line By Barbara Annis and Keith Merron

(Annual budget $1–3 million):

3 of 23

12 of 24

Budgets 4 and 5

(Annual budget $250,000 – $1 million):

38 of 78

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger By Rebecca Traister

43 of 80

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future By Daniel H. Pink

All Budgets 2015

48 of 143

2019

Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins By Mark W. Schaefer

63 of 138

These statistic are organized according to budget groups, defined by opera companies’ annual operating budgets.

Vote with your wallet. Be cognizant of how many tickets you’re buying to see works written, produced and performed by women.

34  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Share what you learn. If you know of an effective resource or meetup group for female professionals, share it with your colleagues.

Be purposeful in your hiring and collaborating. Any time you have the chance to influence hiring decisions, look at the situation and say, “How equitable am I being?”

Get involved. Be the one who says “I’ll lead the WON regional meeting in my city” or “I’ll organize and fundraise to provide child care for artists performing at my company.”

To learn more about WON, visit operaamerica.org/WON, and to join its Facebook group visit go.operaamerica.org/WONFB.

Anne-Michèle Mallory

L AU R A L E E E V E R E T T ’ S AC T I O N P O I N T S F O R E F F E C T I N G C H A N G E


Ira Siff

Heather Bobeck

I

Native Son

ra Siff, the honoree at the kickoff party for this year’s New York Opera Fest, held April 29 at the National Opera Center, is a true embodiment of New York’s opera scene. He is a lifelong New Yorker who, starting as a Met standee in the 1960s, has witnessed nearly six decades of the city’s operatic history. Known nationally as the commentator on the Met’s Saturday afternoon broadcasts, Siff is also an esteemed voice teacher and director. Locally, though, he is probably most celebrated for the drag troupe La Gran Scena Opera Co., which between 1981 and 2002 offered uproarious versions of opera’s great arias and scenes. Siff was not only Gran Scena’s founder; he was also, under the guise of the “traumatic soprano” Vera Galupe-Borszkh, its prima donna. Gran Scena is a spiritual forbear of the independent opera organizations that participated in the Opera Fest, consisting of two months of performances by over 30 of the city’s small companies. Siff notes that the city of his youth had its own, notably flavorful small companies — like Vincent LaSelva’s Bel Canto Opera, presenting rarities in the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, and Anthony Amato’s Amato Opera, staging standard-repertory works on a postagestamp-size stage in its own tiny jewel box of a theater on the Bowery. “These were passionate people who didn’t have a big budget, but had a great deal of

knowledge about style,” Siff says. “The results were sometimes haphazard, sometimes divine and sometimes a bit of both.” The La Puma Opera Workshop was in a realm of its own, attracting a camp following through its catch-as-catch-can production values and the antics of its elderly diva, Olive Middleton. “The guy who sang Siegmund had sung Nemorino earlier in the week,” Siff says of a La Puma Die Walküre. “The Valkyries had the score scotch-taped to their shields.” New York’s current indie opera scene, Siff observes, is notably different. “‘Indie’ didn’t even exist as a word back then!” he says. While the independent companies of the past (Gran Scena included) catered to dyedin-the-wool aficionados, today’s small New York companies, he observes, are drawing new audiences to the art form. “I enjoyed Heartbeat Opera’s Don Giovanni,” he says. “It had some cuts that I would question, but the people in the audience, who may not have known the piece as well as I do, didn’t question them at all. It was a whole public that I’d never seen at the Met — people who are really glad to go to smaller productions.” Opera Fest, funded through the support of the Howard Gilman Foundation, is an initiative of the New York Opera Alliance, a consortium that works in partnership with OPERA America to support the visibility and viability of the city’s independent opera companies.  S U M M E R 2 0 1 9   37


F I R S T

O P E R A

Jamie Barton

G

rowing up on a small farm in the northwest Georgia mountains, “music” meant many things to me — bluegrass, classic rock, church hymns — but never in a million years did I imagine that classical music would become a defining element in my life. Middle school choir and piano lessons gave me a glimpse into this foreign soundscape. But it wasn’t until I was 16 and someone got me a compilation CD called Chopin and Champagne that I fell head over heels in love with classical music. The disc, which I’m sure was purchased from the Blockbuster Music bargain bin, featured Claudio Arrau. I listened to him breathe with the music, feeling the emotions well up in his chest and come out in exhales. I didn’t really get into classical vocal music until a family member gave me a compilation album titled Italian Opera’s Greatest Hits. It included many wonderful artists, but it was Anna Moffo singing “Una voce poco fa” that I put on repeat. Later, someone gave me a huge 12-CD set of the greatest composers, and the Queen of the Night’s aria on the Mozart disc absolutely blew my mind. I had heard high notes before (hello, Mariah Carey!), but hearing a trained classical voice sing something that virtuosic made the wheels start turning in my brain. What is this? Could I do this with my voice, too? I knew I wanted to get a music degree in college, but I 48  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, a winner of both the Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills Awards, will sing the title role of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at the Metropolitan Opera this fall.

Stacey Bode

M Y

wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with it. I knew people liked to hear me sing (I was voted “most talented” at Armuchee High School, class of 2000!), and I knew I liked to perform, especially in music theater. I decided to go to Shorter College — a local college with fabulous musical theater and classical music programs — as a music education major. That decision lasted about a month into my first semester, when I figured out that one-on-one voice lessons were the only teaching I was interested in doing. So I switched my major to vocal performance. (I had considered going into music theater, but anxiety about having to wear a unitard in an 8:00 a.m. ballet class scared me off.) My first few years of classical vocal study were simultaneously inspiring and overwhelming. The music opened my ears to worlds I had never dreamt existed. But I had a very steep hill to climb in order to catch up to most of my classmates, and I nearly quit. My knowledge of music theory was almost nonexistent (I ended up failing a semester of that in my sophomore year), and I had absolutely no basis for understanding foreign languages. What I did have were wonderful teachers who would accept nothing less than excellent effort. They believed in me, but they weren’t going to tolerate laziness. When my voice teacher, Dr. Brian Horne — who was, and still is, very much my second father — saw that I was beginning to shirk my student responsibilities in favor of the social scene, he told me that if I didn’t buckle down and work, he was going to boot me from his studio. It was the kick in the pants I needed. It was during college that I went to Atlanta Opera with a group of friends to see Indra Thomas, a Shorter alum, in Aida. I was thrilled to be seeing my very first professional opera, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to behold. The production was one of those grand opera spectacles that we all know and love. And the Amneris, Nina Terentieva, absolutely floored me. I didn’t know that mezzos could have high notes like that, or that a chest voice could literally rattle the audience. In seeing this performance, I was learning the possibilities of my fach — possibilities that eventually became realities. My life as both a fan and a performer of classical music has been full of moments like these: moments of stumbling on discoveries that help propel me to the next level of understanding. I’ve never been part of a sports team, but I feel like being a classical singer is akin to playing Olympic-level sports. I get to spend the rest of my life challenging my body to its furthest possibilities. The learning never stops, and I absolutely love that!


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ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST

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APRIL 3 & 5, 2020

THE CAPULETS AND THE MONTAGUES

Bellini

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