This past week, I had the unique opportunity to sing for a seminar for student conductors led by Professor Donald Schleicher, who is retiring at the end of this year. This workshop was centered around arias from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and I was lucky that Dr. Julie Gunn recommended me for it. I am always happy to sing anything from this opera, as it is one of my favorites, and the role of Count Almaviva is a staple of lyric baritone repertoire (my voice type). I agreed instantly to help out with this and was eager for the opportunity to sing with a reduced orchestra! I love singing with strings, and it always provides a welcome variety because even in non-pandemic times, rehearsals are typically with piano. Moreover, the aria I was designated to sing at the workshop was “Hai già vinta la causa,” Count Almaviva’s aria from Nozze, and this was an aria I sang many times throughout my audition season. I was eager to use my skills with the aria in this real-world application.
Audition season for graduate music programs is a crucial time for music school seniors. Applications open around September, pre-screening videos are due by December 1st, live audition invitations are sent later that month or in January, and auditions typically occur throughout February or March. My virtual live auditions were mostly in February, but this past weekend, I completed the last audition of my season, for the Curtis Institute of Music opera program.
On the day that I left the University, I was able to watch an extraordinary Lyric Theatre production at the Tryon Festival Theatre! This is the first indoor concert I have seen. It was meant to be performed in the amphitheater outside Krannert, but rain caused it to move indoors. I loved being back in Tryon and seeing a show. The production was The Last American Hammer, a contemporary opera first produced in 2018 and written by composer Peter Hilliard and librettist Matt Boresi. Matt Boresi is based in Evanston, IL, and it was great seeing work by a fellow Illinois resident.
My graduate school audition season has been winding down (though I still have one last audition, for Curtis Institute, which I will certainly detail in a blog post!) and my last audition in February was for the Yale School of Music opera program. This has been one of my top programs since the beginning of my application process. Only about sixteen singers are in the program at any given time, and it is tuition-free. I attended a virtual information session with current Yale Opera students the week of the audition, and I was very impressed by their answers to prospective students’ questions, their drive to make music safely during COVID, and their overall friendliness.
I have written in previous blog posts about one of my main projects this semester: an in-person presentation of Samuel Barber’s often-neglected opera, Vanessa, with the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra. This past week brought the culmination of this tremendously fulfilling project. The event was quite momentous, as it was our school’s first in-person performance featuring vocals to have a limited live audience since the pandemic.
Last week, I sat in on the first orchestra rehearsal for Lyric Theatre @ Illinois’ and University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s concert presentation of excerpts from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. I could not wait to begin working on the music with the talented chamber orchestra, and today, I had the opportunity to do so! This was quite a big deal for me because it was the first time I had sung solo in the Foellinger Great Hall unamplified (one of my greatest Illinois memories was singing the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance in November 2018, but that performance utilized microphones). The acoustics of the Foellinger Great Hall are renowned, and some of the world’s greatest singers, including many of my vocal idols, have enjoyed giving recitals on this stage. It felt amazing singing with an orchestra in this space which is so kind to singers and provides plentiful natural amplification.
Since I am a senior undergraduate, the question of my plans after graduation looms large. I started thinking about these plans quite early, meeting professors from appealing graduate programs during junior year. Now, in late February of my senior year, I am nearing the end of this long but imperative process. This is a very unique audition season; some schools eliminated the pre-screen round entirely, some simply advanced our videos to a second viewing, and a few required live virtual auditions over Zoom! In January, I had such an audition for Boston Conservatory at Berklee, and this helped me get comfortable with this unique audition format. Earlier today, February 20th, I had another virtual live audition, this time for the Voice and Opera Program at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music in Evanston, IL.
Incredibly, the last time I was in the Krannert Center’s cavernous Foellinger Great Hall, one of the great treasures of our university, was March 2020, almost a year ago. The last day before the pandemic fully took hold, I was on that familiar stage performing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar,” with the Men’s Glee Club, non-treble voices of Oratorio Society and Chamber Singers, soloist Ricardo Herrera, and the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra led by Donald Schleicher. This was also the last time I performed with a large ensemble for a large audience, and even the last time I have been in a room with that many people for any purpose. This performance took on particular weight when we found that we would not perform the piece at Carnegie Hall and that this would be our last chance to communicate Shoshtakovich’s fiercely relevant political message. The performance was life-affirming in every sense, and its memory still thrills when I think about its eternal temporal place on the edge of a pre-pandemic era.