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Q&A with Palm Beach Opera’s 2017-2018 Apprentice Artists and Benenson Young Artists

There is nothing in the world like the feeling you get when you hear unamplified singers and an orchestra.  It hits you straight in the soul.
James Wright, Apprentice Artist

Stepping stones to a successful career as an opera singer, The Benenson Young Artist Program and Apprentice Artist Program provides emerging singers with performance experience, career guidance from Palm Beach Opera’s experienced artistic staff, and the opportunity to polish their skills. Part of the unique three-tiered training system at Palm Beach Opera, these programs attracted more than 600 applicants this year alone — and less than 20 were accepted.

From performing in outreach concerts to appearing in mainstage productions, both our Apprentice Artists and Benenson Young Artists gain professional experience through Palm Beach Opera’s intensive training programs — but how did they get here and how do they feel about singing opera today? During National Opera Week, we invite you to learn more about our Apprentice Artists and Benenson Young Artists in our exclusive Q&A:

Chelsea Bonagura, Benenson Young Artist

How did you get involved in opera?

It was somewhat accidental. I have always been musical (playing the piano, guitar, and several wind instruments) and as a child was known for doing impressions and impersonations. I remember being away at summer camp in high school and entertaining my bunk mates with some impressions, including “operatic” ones. I recall several of them looking at me stunned saying “no, I don’t think that’s an impression, I think you are actually singing opera!” Shortly thereafter, I ended up taking some voice lessons, and the rest is history!

What is your dream role, and why?

I would love to sing the role of Lucia. Studying her character would be like doing a psychological case study. She is so deep and complex. Also, the music is beautiful!

Who are your favorite singers performing today? I think Italian Soprano Mariella Devia is one of the greatest sopranos who ever lived. Her technique is flawless. Well into her 60s, she’s still an incredible singer and performer! 

Maria Brea, Apprentice Artist

What do you love about opera?

Opera brings people together. It is a collaborative art form so you can find all kinds of artists in a production. From Ballet to Costume designers.

Why do you feel opera is important in today’s society?

People need opera in their lives. The human voice can make people feel so many emotions. Opera is a medicine to the soul and it can help with anxiety and depression. There is an article in Los Angeles Times written by health and science reporter Melissa Healy that talks about the benefits of music for patients with autism, dyslexia and Alzheimer’s disease.

How did you get involved in opera? 

My dad is a music teacher and a lot of my relatives sing and play the guitar. My dad always made sure my sister and I listened to all kinds of music. I knew that I wanted to be an opera singer at age 11 after hearing a Bach cantata that my dad got me for my computer lab project.

What is your dream role, and why?

Micaëla (which I will perform in April) is a very strong and courageous woman. She risks her life to help Don José’s mother connect with her son and also to help him get out of the criminal love.

What are you most excited about for Palm Beach Opera’s 2018 season?

I am excited to be part of the productions and to hear so many talented singers. It is inspiring to share the same passion of music with all the wonderful singers that come to Palm Beach Opera.

I love that in today’s casual society, there is still something grand about opera.
Emily Spencer, Apprentice Artist

Emily Spencer, Apprentice Artist

What do you love about opera?

I love that in today’s casual society, there is still something grand about opera. There’s something cathartic about crying at the end of La Bohème or La Traviata, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re experiencing it at the Met or in a warehouse-turned-performance venue–it’s still going to hit you like a ton of bricks when Rodolpho cries Mimì’s name at the end.  The drama itself, while sometimes larger-than-life or improbable, still manages to hit us at the deepest places in our emotional cores, and I think that’s a rare and beautiful thing.

Who are your favorite singers performing today? Two spring to mind immediately — Jon Burton and Stephanie Blythe. I could listen to Burton sing Puccini all day long. His Cavaradossi is truly an experience. I am in awe of Blythe’s range of repertoire. I think she is a prime example of not setting limits on yourself based on the size or color of your voice.  Technique is technique, whether you’re singing Handel or Wagner.

James Wright, Apprentice Artist

What do you love about opera?

There is no other art form that uses EVERY art form to tell a story.  There is nothing in the world like the feeling you get when you hear unamplified singers and an orchestra.  It hits you straight in the soul.

Why do you feel opera is important in today’s society?

In a time when we can all feel bogged down by the news, opera offers relief from reality even for just a few hours.  It can give you rest while you are there and hope when you leave.

How did you get involved in opera?

I was planning on being a music teacher and during graduate school, I saw my first opera at The Met.  I had no idea that opera could be like that.  The size of everything blew me away.  The singers, the orchestra, the set, the theater, all of it.

What is your dream role, and why?

Rigoletto.  I haven’t taken a poll but I think most baritones would love to sing Rigoletto.  I think Verdi knew the baritone voice better than any other composer and Rigoletto is the best thing he wrote for baritone.  The character is so fantastic and the singing is amazing.

What are you most excited about for Palm Beach Opera’s 2018 season?

I love Tosca and my teacher, Michael Chioldi, is singing Scarpia.

Who are your favorite singers performing today?

There are many but to name a few..Bryn Terfel got me to love singing when I was in high school and I have seen him many times since. I wish I could be as smart of a performer as Simon Keenlyside, and I don’t think anyone in the world sings on the same level as Anna Netrebko

Andrew Richardson, Benenson Young Artist

What do you love about opera?

I love the challenge of it. I love that a group of vastly different people with vastly different skills can come together to tell one story.

Why do you feel opera is important in today’s society?

I think it is important in the same way all art is important in society. The stories we tell, although centuries old, are the same stories still being told today.

How did you get involved in opera?

I got cast in a musical the summer after my freshman year of high school and had to sing in it. My dad found a voice teacher for me and that teacher had sung with New York City Opera and really guided me through learning to love opera. She sent me home every week with a new recording. Sometimes it was opera, sometimes it was lieder. She introduced me to the great singers of the past and I just fell in love with it.

What is your dream role and why?

Probably Wotan. The reason why beyond the music and the story is that I am more than certain I can’t do it and those really deep feelings of doubt excite me more than anything else.

What are you most excited about for Palm Beach Opera’s 2018 season?

Tosca and Le Nozze di Figaro are two of my favorite operas. My first opera recording was Le Nozze di Figaro and I love everything in it. When I was in middle school I used to wear out my copy of Amadeus rewatching the scene where Salieri is watching the act 4 finale. I love that music so much. Tosca is one of the most exciting operas I’ve ever seen. Scarpia is another dream role and getting a chance to see Michael Chioldi do it is going to be great!

Opera is the culmination of so many art forms to tell an amazing story. Stories that make us laugh, cry, and question ourselves and our beliefs.
Derrek Stark, Benenson Young Artist

Derrek Stark, Benenson Young Artist

What do you love about opera?

I love that opera is the culmination of so many art forms to tell an amazing story. Stories that make us laugh, cry, and question ourselves and our beliefs.

Why do you feel opera is important in today’s society?

We have an innate need to communicate through more than spoken language. Our ancestors sang historical ballads and painted stick figures on cave walls in a desire to communicate.  Music, and in particular opera, transcends the spoken word and reaches deep inside us to heal, cleanse and strengthen. I think artistic endeavors like opera teach us empathy, something we are in desperate need of.

How did you get involved in opera?

By accident. I wanted to be a famous concert pianist, but ended up falling in love with singing and the amazing melodies the masters of opera have gifted us.

What is your dream role, and why?

Canio. The role has some amazingly moving moments, the orchestration is impressive, and it’s all dripping with drama. Definitely something you can sink your teeth into.

What are you most excited about for Palm Beach Opera’s 2018 season?

I am incredibly honored and excited to sing as a comprimario role in Candide. I get my own aria – I’m pumped!

Who are your favorite singers performing today?

Too many to list. As a tenor, I’m partial to that voice type. Some favorites include: Corelli, Pavarotti, Wunderlich, Freni, Horne, Vaness, Gobbi, Callas…there are just too many!

I love that opera is like playing a sport. We train, we practice, we perform, we tell a story at the highest level to emotionally connect with our audiences. We are athletes.
My love for opera is comparable to my love for playing a sport. We train to be prepared, we constantly practice to improve our craft, and we compete at the highest level to win over our audiences.
Athletes perform their sport on the various fields of play, and as opera singers we tell our stories on many stages at the highest level to emotionally connect with our audiences

Brooklyn Snow, Apprentice Artist

What do you love about opera?

I love that opera is like playing a sport. We train, we practice, we perform, we tell a story at the highest level to emotionally connect with our audiences. We are athletes.

Why do you feel opera is important in today’s society?

With so much going on in our world today, opera is a unifying art form that encompasses all languages, all genres and has the ability to touch the soul. It’s a sound like no other.

How did you get involved in opera?

I was in choir from a young age. My choir teacher encouraged me to sing, giving me the confidence to peruse my dream of becoming a singer. I started taking voice lessons at the age of 13 and fell in love with classical music. I remember performing “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s opera, Gianni Schicchi for the first time and becoming obsessed.

What is your dream role, and why?

My dream role is to perform Juliette from Charles Gounod’s opera Roméo et Juliette. I love her youthful energy and the transformation of her journey from little girl to grown woman, all within the span of an opera. The soaring beauty of her arias and emotionally gripping duets with Roméo are magical.

What are you most excited about for Palm Beach Opera’s 2018 season?
Having the opportunity to work with the incredibly talented singers, conductors and stage crew of each cast! Also, getting to work with the incomparable Betsy Bishop, who is not only a power house of a goddess onstage, but an incredible teacher.

Who are your favorite singers performing today?

Lisette Oropesa

 

 

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