Yapping with the YAPs: Singing Their Way through a Pandemic

BRAVO 55 (Fall 2020)

By Judith Hyman

LA Opera's Young Artist Program is one of the features of our resident opera company that sets it apart. These Young Artists (YAPs) land prominent roles in mainstage productions at LAO and other opera companies even while still in the program.

Which begs the question: How have the YAPs been holding up during these Wagnerian times?

Joshua Winograde, LAO's Senior Director of Artistic Programs, says that when they realized the world was going virtual at the start of the pandemic, he and the team put in place a curriculum with six areas of focus: recordings, practice videos, live coaching and lessons, language lessons, recitals and independent projects.

  1. Recordings: On a weekly basis, YAPs are responsible for overseeing the creation of vocal accompaniment "tracks" (like karaoke) which they can use at home for practice, voice lessons and coachings. This has really encouraged them, with our guidance, to scour the repertoire for roles and arias and songs that are essential for both their current stage of development, and their next. Also, as they go back and forth with the music staff who is making these recordings for them, it has fostered a necessary sense of leadership over their own artistic process: really exploring which tempi, dynamics and musical liberties they need a pianist to adapt to in creating a karaoke track (i.e. without the benefit of the pianist adjusting to a singer in real time) has allowed them to look at their own musicality from another angle.
  2. Practice Videos: Weekly, they submit videos of themselves practicing and performing their study repertoire, using the recorded tracks or a cappella. These videos are the basis of which Stephen King (their voice teacher), James Conlon, Susan Graham, Nino, the music staff and I deliver feedback and guidance.
  3. Live Coaching and Lessons: Using both recorded practice videos and live singing via video conferencing, the Young Artists continue to study voice with Stephen King, and coach repertoire with our music staff.
  4. Language Lessons: The less robust daily schedule has allowed them to almost quadruple the amount of private language lessons they are able to take (all via video conferencing). Language proficiency is obviously the cornerstone for artistic expression for singers that almost never sing in their native tongues. We normally constantly struggle to find the necessary time for them to squeeze in lessons, so one silver lining of this has been the increased frequency of those.
  5. Recitals: I hope you have had a chance to see some of the astounding LAO at Home live recitals that they have been doing. In additional to continuing to prepare, coach and ultimately perform live recitals for LAO at Home, they are also working on researching, curating, programming, coaching and performing (recorded video) full recital programs for future use, such as streaming, etc. Like language study, this study of poetry and song is an absolutely necessary artistic endeavor for all singers, but it is one that we always struggle to squeeze in amongst their busy opera schedule.
  6. Independent Projects: They are all responsible for developing an independent project, which could be studying a new role or genre of music, an academic or historical issue relating to opera, etc. My favorite of them so far is a 45-minute concert of Golden Age Musical Theater being programmed and prepared by Young Artist pianist Brendon Shapiro. It aired in September.

Clearly these tireless YAPs are not about to let their operatic muscles atrophy. As for how they’re handling the day-to-day in between, let’s hear them tell it.

Michael J. Hawk
When my international debut as the title role in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Daegu Opera in South Korea was cancelled at the end of January, I wanted to take control of one aspect of my life: my health. Since February 3rd, I have lost 74.4 lbs, and I'm feeling better than ever (picture below). In terms of singing/training, I've had a significant amount of time to fine-tune language and intention in my work. I was recently featured on the Santa Fe Opera's digital summer offerings finale, from the recorded workshop of M. Butterfly: premiering "The Perfect Woman," Rene Gallimard's act three aria from Huang Ruo's opera.


Tiffany Townsend
I’ve been writing a lot in my journal and discovering a lot of new music in a wide array of musical genres. I’ve also been having Zoom parties with loved ones and friends to keep in touch which have been very helpful. To keep up with training I’ve been exploring a list of arias and roles that I’ve been wanting to try. I have also been trying to practice piano more often.

Alaysha Fox
I decided to get a studio near the Music Center while the prices were greatly reduced due to COVID. I’m thinking of it as a long-term investment as I’ll likely be with the program for another two years.

Louis Lohraseb on behalf of himself and Erica Petrocelli
Things have been very busy here, as Erica and I have gotten engaged! I proposed to her on July 2, and we have set our wedding date for August, 1, 2021.

Erica is currently in the middle of moving to Zurich to join the opera studio there. She and I spent the quarantine together in our apartment in L.A., being musically active together and making over four recitals for the LAO at Home opera series—we were in fact the first recital to go live on March 17.

In August I started a recital series at the Elm Court Mansion in Butler, PA. This year will be all virtual, but my collaborators and I hope to turn it into a larger series next year.

Robert Stahley
Since the end of the season I've been reading a lot and exercising more. It can be difficult to motivate myself to practice some days, but I remind myself that even a little bit will be beneficial in the long run. It's been wonderful to see many of my colleagues performing virtually, and I love to hop on the livestreams to see what they're working on. I've been working on expanding my skills in the kitchen with new recipes that fit my budget. Money is tight for us all right now so I'm trying to stay within my means and take advantage of many outdoor activities that California has to offer. I want to visit my family in Florida, and to avoid flying, I'm thinking I'll plan a camping road trip to get there.

Tiffany Townsend
I’ve been writing a lot in my journal and discovering a lot of new music in a wide array of musical genres. I’ve also been having Zoom parties with loved ones and friends to keep in touch which have been very helpful. To keep up with training, I’ve been exploring a list of arias and roles that I’ve been wanting to try. I have also been trying to practice piano more often.

Brendon Shapiro
I am currently preparing to serve as coach and pianist for a production of Tosca at the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice in Phoenicia, NY. What makes this production so exciting is that it is a drive-in style performance, meaning that the audience will all stay in their cars while the live performance in front of them is also projected onto large jumbotron screens. This will allow for a safe experience for the audience during the pandemic. Staging will also be adjusted so that the singers never come too close on stage. I'm very excited to join conductor Audrey Saint-Gil, director Maria Todaro and an amazing cast including Joyce El-Khoury as Tosca, Dimitra Pittas as Cavaradossi and Kyle Albertson as Scarpia.

Additionally, I am working with my husband, Omar Najmi, who is both a composer and tenor, on applying for grants and fundraising for a workshop of his upcoming opera, This is Not That Dawn, after we successfully co-produced a workshop performance last summer of his first opera, En la ardiente oscuridad. Stepping into the role of co-producer, in addition to musical director, has been extremely rewarding for me, and I am very excited to continue championing new music and contemporary opera in whatever way I can during the pandemic.

Sylvia D'Eramo
During this pandemic, I have tried to stay sane by gardening, refinishing furniture I found at thrift stores, perfecting my homemade pasta and practicing singing daily. I have been studying the German language in depth, and that has helped me stay focused and goal driven. Also, most importantly, I got engaged to the best person on the planet. We have been smiling for the last two months straight!

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