When and how did you decide to get involved in opera?
I decided to pursue opera after my second year of pursuing my bachelor’s degree. I went to college mainly because I liked to sing—not opera specifically, but I just loved singing. I never studied opera or classical music until college. My passions were for choral singing and vocal jazz. After a few semesters of voice lessons, I was nudged into trying some opera repertoire and have stuck with it ever since.
What is it about opera that made you stick with it?
What draws me toward opera above all other types of singing or performance is the fact that opera incorporates many levels of performance. I love to sing solo repertoire, of all genres, but that gets lonely and I long to work with other people. I love singing choral music, but I wind-up missing the solo aspect of singing. I've tried to do some straight theater, but for me it's missing the music.... Opera has it all: solos, ensembles, recitative, and even spoken dialogue sometimes. Opera also requires many skill sets: vocal technique; acting skills; feeling confident with performing in many foreign languages; a strong understanding of music theory, history and aural skills; and the ability to work as an ensemble with the other characters on stage, the conductor and orchestra all at the same time. Performing on the opera stage has many challenges and requires much more preparation than many "non-opera" people might think. There is so much variety and there are endless possibilities for growth and change.
Where have you studied, and what productions have you been a part of in your career so far?
I really didn't have an interest in opera until about 6 years ago, but in that time, I received my bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and then my master’s degree from The Juilliard School, both in Vocal Performance.
As for opera programs, I was part of the AIMS Program in Graz, Austria, for one summer, and I’ve sung with the opera program at the Aspen Music Festival and School for two summers. Now I'm here as a Young Artist and it's the perfect place for me. It offers me the opportunity to keep learning vocally, but also to have many performing opportunities with the other Young Artists, as well as on the mainstage.
Some of my most memorable performances have included singing Figaro in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro with the Juilliard Opera; Bob in Menotti's Old Maid and the Thief at Western Michigan University; Masetto in Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Aspen Music Festival; understudying the role of Willy Wonka in a World Premier of Peter Ash's The Golden Ticket with The Opera Theatre of St. Louis; and now performing the role of Procolo in Donizetti's Viva la Mamma! here with the Young Artist Program.
What has your experience with the YAP been like so far?
I have had such a wonderful experience as part of the YAP so far. Because this opera world that we are a part of is so small, I actually knew three of the other Young Artists coming into the program. There are only nine of us, so we all got to know each other fairly quickly and we immediately began spending time together during our down time. It's a great group of people, all with different talents and we can all afford to learn from each other. I couldn't think of a better environment in which to spend time learning and growing.
Viva la Mamma! isn’t frequently performed; had you ever heard of it before you found out it would be the fall YAP production?
I had never even heard about Viva la Mamma! before I was assigned to learn one of its roles. It’s a wonderfully hilarious opera, and perfect for this group of Young Artists. Personally, I feel much more at home in a comedic role than a dramatic one, which might be due to the fact that I haven't had the opportunity to perform many dramatic roles as of yet. But any chance to perform is a great opportunity!
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges for a young opera singer trying to make it in today’s industry?
The opera world is very different today than it was even 50 years ago. Voice training used to be a skill that was learned slowly and methodically, but now there seems to be a pressure on young singers to be ready for a career and vocally mature before they really have the chance to develop in a healthy way.
It's not just a physical pressure, but an emotional one as well. I've encountered too many young singers that, in their early to mid-twenties, are so down on themselves for not getting roles or not being managed, or are depressed because someone has told them they’re not good enough. I often wish that vocal training could be like it used to be where a singer would study with their teacher on a daily basis, working extremely slowly on the fundamental ideas of singing: breath, support, and release of physical tension.
On top of that, the business is becoming much more technologically advanced with live video broadcast performances, which in turn requires opera singers today to be much more skilled as actors and to be in good physical shape. But, in my opinion, these are good challenges for us as performers, because it makes us better in all aspects of our craft.