A Taste for Opera | Berklee Valencia Campus

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A Taste for Opera

Students from the Summer Opera Intensive at Valencia performed at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. Image by Tato Baeza.

Applications have begun for the second annual Boston Conservatory Opera Intensive at Valencia program, which will take place between June 3 and June 23, 2018. Last year, 23 students from nine different countries joined the program. “We look for students that have vocal talent and are serious about their singing so we can see their potential, as we look for voices that are appropriate for opera, that have a size and beauty to the sound that would be successful on the operatic stage, as well as expressiveness,” says Johnathon Pape, director of the program. He adds that the course “is an exciting, honest, and rewarding way for young singers to build their skills while experiencing what the opera world is really like.”

For the Love of Opera

The opera intensive program is designed as a stepping stone on the way to building a career in a genre that requires the skill of singing in a variety of languages and styles as well as performing all sorts of characters on stage in a credible, compelling way. “It is an excellent opportunity for young singers to build their skills, work with world-class faculty and industry professionals, get valuable performing experience, and gain a better understanding of what having a career in opera is really all about,” says Pape.

Daniel Flors coordinates the program from Valencia, and he explains that some of the highlights of the course include the location of the campus, which is minutes away from Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, a “magnificent” stage where students get to perform. “The real professional world is very competitive, and they have not only to be trained and ready but also confident in what they do. Through this course, they can experiment and feel like professionals since the atmosphere that's been created allows them to start working towards the 'real world,'” he adds.

Jacee Engels was one of the students who took the course last summer, and she decided to apply because she was searching for programs “that would offer both performance experience and extensive training in opera. When I saw the words ‘opera intensive,’ I knew that I had landed on a promising opportunity, and the combination of the Conservatory’s reputation and the gorgeous location of Valencia was all the further support I needed to make my decision,” she says. Before enrolling, Engels took two years of private voice lesson. “I had sung one operatic role, Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro, at my current university, North Dakota State University. I did not fall in love with opera until I went to college, so it was a big leap for me,” she says.

Etna Viramontes also enrolled last year, attracted by the idea of a new experience that “would challenge my capacities, which are English and, most important, singing. And then I found this program, which was just what I was looking for.” Viramontes started singing when she was 7 years old and starting training in opera when she was 13, four years ago.

Short but Intense

During the course, each participant receives private voice lessons and musical coaching. Daily rehearsals also take place to prepare the concerts presented each week, as well as extensive rehearsals for the opera scenes, which are shaped as two gala concerts and scheduled during the course. These rehearsals are organized in small groups formed by the different characters in the particular opera scene that students are presenting. “Students get the best of both: some intensive individual instruction and also working with their peers to rehearse and present their concerts and scenes,” says Pape.

“In addition to voice lessons and coachings, we had the fortune of attending lectures about various aspects of the business, notably what it takes to be an opera singer, working with conductors, preparing a role, and the legalities of opera with guest speaker Don Franzen,” says Engels. Guest artists bring their experience in the real world of opera and share their expertise with students. There are master classes where students get feedback on their performances from these professionals as well as opportunities for students to have Q&As with the artists.

Renowned soprano Cristina Gallardo was one of the visiting artists during the Summer Intensive Opera at Valencia:

The progress of the participants is constantly monitored. “The faculty give them feedback all the time on how they are doing and how they can improve. Each performance opportunity —the concerts and opera scenes program—is carefully prepared to bring the student to the highest level they are able to achieve at this stage of their training,” says Pape. Flors adds that all performances are videotaped. “The main goal is to improve in technique, stage presence, repertoire, and all that is required for them to be great performers,” he says. By the end of the course, faculty expect students to present their work at a high level musically and dramatically. “We were very pleased to see the huge improvement that everyone made last summer. It was very rewarding for the students as well as for the faculty,” says Pape.

The intensive course culminates in two gala concerts. The first concert is a program of greatest hits from opera, where students present a variety of arias from the standard and contemporary repertoire. The second is a program of Spanish-language arias and songs from the world of opera, zarzuela, and the concert hall. “The concerts were amazing, filled with surprises, pressure, and fear, but once you get on that stage, all of that is gone, and you become a whole person,” Viramontes recalls. For Engels, her first performance didn’t go as planned but drove her to work even harder. “It paid off; the next performance was far more seamless. It was a wonderful experience to sing a Spanish art song, which was uncharted territory for me previously,” she says.

The intensive course gave Engels enough confidence to pursue a career in opera. “It was like putting on a pair of prescription glasses for the first time. I learned many lessons, both academic and vocal, but I also learned a great deal about myself as an artist—what I want to say onstage and why. This has proven to be invaluable moving forward,” she says.