By Beverly Phillips and Renee Salick
Do these nine LA Opera Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists, whom we lovingly call YAPs, spend every waking YAPPing moment practicing, rehearsing, training and fine-tuning their vocal chops? Not a chance, although many of their hobbies and activities do enhance, inspire and promote their craft while helping them relax and unwind.
Prime example? Food! Cooking is an easy favorite for traveling artists. Michelle Siemens, mezzo-soprano, finds baking a “sweet way to decompress at the end of the day and rest my voice.” Pianist Aurelia Andrews hopes one day to “run my own cake business.” Tenor Brian Michael Moore finds “making croissants an entirely meditative experience” and perfect for relieving stress. It should be noted that Brian also fundraises for Children’s Cancer hospitals.
Left: Brian Michael Moore baking with Dad (Credit: Elizabeth Moore); Right: Elizabeth Zharoff and Michelle Siemens (Credit: Unknown)
How about video games? Did you think your kids or grandkids were the only video gamers in the house? Check out these young artists. Brian is so into gaming, he prefers to custom-build his own computer to guarantee the highest-quality gaming experience. Take THAT, Electronic Entertainment Expo groupies! Never thought you’d meet someone who actually composes music specifically for video games? Cross it off the bucket list, because Elizabeth Zharoff does just that. This soprano composes and produces music for video games when she’s not working with other composers on improving their vocal writing skills. “I love being able to create music while resting my voice,” she says. Elizabeth is the creative director and producer of Song Cycle: The History of Video Games, which contains 26 songs for classical singers based on iconic game tunes. “I wanted to create a repertoire to which a young generation could instantly connect.”
Some young artists step away from their laptops and mobile devices to pursue more energetic hobbies. Pianist Milena Gligic is an avid dancer and recently joined a Bulgarian Folk Dance ensemble. “I also joined a super cool choir led by actress Maggie Wheeler where people learn music by ear and sing complex lines in a foreign language along with simple dance movements. It’s so inspiring and refreshing to be around amateurs who approach music from another perspective, more intuitive and more heartfelt.” Tenor Josh Wheeker likes hiking and fishing. Right now he’s focusing on hiking Yosemite and fishing off Santa Monica pier.
Left: Milena Gligic (Credit: Maggie Langhorne); Right: Michelle Siemens (Credit: Unknown)
Then you have driving and theme parks, not to speak of driving to theme parks. Baritone Theo Hoffman, a native Manhattan-ite, only just learned to drive in May of this year. He drove cross country from New York to L.A. and saw his “worldview expanded in beautiful new ways.” Aurelia is struggling with driving in L.A., which of course means she now has something in common with her audience. “I have accidentally turned the wrong way onto a one-way street SO MANY TIMES!” She and her three-year old son experienced a magical time at Disneyland, coupled with a not-so-magical time negotiating the I-5. At least the jaunts to Anaheim force her to get the hang of driving, and in the right direction! As for Michelle, she admits to “having a weakness for theme parks, so moving to L.A. definitely meant buying season passes to Universal Studios.”
Even in their downtime, some young artists still gravitate toward musical pursuits. Theo incorporated his early passion for guitar with classical performing and developed a concert with mentor Steven Blier called Schubert/Beatles. “It’s so important never to forget what inspired one to start making music in the first place.” Theo does have a non-musical hobby on the brain. He’s planning to learn to unicycle. Baritone Kihun Yoon, meanwhile, used to sport Metalica T-shirts and long hair while he banged the drums. These days the decidedly more mellow, and more tightly coiffed, Kihun prefers kicking back on the couch to watch the odd flick…but with laser focus. “Watching and studying the diverse characters in movies—a murderer, a crazy guy and a mental patient—inspired my cover for the role of Macbeth.”
Kihun Yoon with Plácido Domingo (Credit: HaeJi Chang)
Of course, who doesn’t love to travel? These young artists are practically YAPPing at the bit to see the world. Kihun wants “to trip around the world, especially Egypt, Congo and the Antarctic.” Michelle wants to travel “everywhere and eventually sing on the great stages of the world.”
Then you have a category of hobbies that fall under the category of ambitious. Of course, even to be a young artist in the first place requires a bottomless well of ambition and drive. So it makes perfect sense, for example, that Milena “loves birds and can’t live without a good chocolate. I want to create my own music, learn to ski, fly a plane, travel the world, dance and sing my heart out!”
Theo Hoffman and friends (Credit: Unknown)
Then there’s Theo. “I want to work with James Levine and Seiji Ozawa. I want to perform Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. I want to skydive. I want to live and work in Europe. I want to own a gourmet taco truck with my best friend. I want to be fluent in French. I want to be able to make a great pie. I want to be a father someday. I want to conduct an orchestra. I want to direct opera. I want to run an opera house.”
Whether musical or non-musical, the young artists agree that hobbies only improve their YAPPing. Take tenor Carlos Enrique Santelli, first generation American from a Venezuelan family and a huge Star Trek fan (a.k.a. Trekkie) and coffee gourmand, who describes his apartment as a “coffee laboratory.” He says, “All the practice in the world won’t improve our art if we don’t take the time to live a nonmusical life as well. I don’t think there’s a hobby that doesn’t play into our careers as opera singers.”
YAPs O'Plenty (Credit: Amisha Patankar)
Cover photo of Theo Hoffman (Credit Cody Quattlebaum)