A music critic and friend recently made this comment to a post on www.Rafaelmusicnotes.com

“But no one really thinks about the young artists just out of college, who are trying to get a foot in the door and launch a career. I too have been heartened by these young opera companies in our midst, and wonder how the founders and artists involved in them manage to even put food on their tables… Are we graduating too many people? “

That’s more than a couple of insightful and troubling comments with sobering questions appended to them: How does a young artist launch a career after college? How do they put food on their tables? Are we graduating too many people from our conservatories?

Spurred by my critic-friend’s comments I decided to take an informal poll with several CCM graduate students on the brink of professional careers. All of these young artists have sung or conducted with various professional organizations around town, several farther afield.

Here is a quick survey of eight immensely gifted artists and their doings what, where and when.

There is no question in my mind that each and every one of these enterprising musicians will carve out a niche in the music profession. By the same token I doubt that any one of the eight will follow a conventional route to attain their goal.  And no, I don’t believe we are graduating too many musicians from our conservatories. I believe that these conservatory products that make up my profile are the foot soldiers that are bringing music to the 21st century infusing new life into it.

Jesse Leong (http://jesseleong.com will be going to the Glimmerglass Festival for the summer of 2016, where he will be an Assistant Conductor, working on La bohème, Robert Ward’s The Crucible, and Wilde Tales, a world premiere youth opera by Laura Karpman and Kelley Rourk. The young conductor is also working on an extensive reference book entitled La bohème: A Connotative and Grammatical Translation, which he plans on publishing as an e-book in the near future. In the fall Jesse returns to CCM to work on Albert Herring, which he will conduct for CCM’s Opera d’arte.

Annalise Dwzonczyk, a lovely lyric-coloratura soprano has been hired for a full time position as a Wealth Management Coordinator in a Cincinnati banking institution. In her words, she hopes to “… still be singing as much as I can outside of business hours, of course! But this will help pay the bills for the time being.” The “bills” Annalise needs to pay for are, I assume, the staggering student loans that come inexorably due right after graduation. This burden is handled differently by opera singers, instrumentalists, conductors and musical theatre performers. In the case of the later, many of them are able to get summer employment in various large musical theatre venues around the country, where many are able to get their Equity (Actors Equity Association) membership and earn professional wages early on in their careers while still in college. But Annalise will be alright and she will continue to sing.

Mezzo-soprano, Kayleigh Decker will be making her Opera Theatre of Saint Louis debut as a Gerdine Young Artist. She will be covering the role of Peggy in the world premiere of Shalimar the Clown, which she sang in the CCM/Cincinnati Opera Opera Fusion workshop last fall. In the fall this gifted singer returns to CCM to compete her Master’s degree in Opera.

Meanwhile soprano Caitlin Gotimer is off to sing Musetta with the Crested Butte Opera Studio in Colorado, then back to CCM for one more year. I should mention that Caitlin lists in her resume a combination of operatic and musical theatre roles, and her idiomatic singing of both kinds of music exemplifies the versatility of a new generation of singers who can straddle both those worlds with assurance.

Allan Palacios Chan, a tenor already in demand as a specialist in the Rossini-Donizetti leggiero roles and in Baroque music will be in Santa Barbara, CA for his second season with Music Academy of the west, where his assignments include the role of Vašek in Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and a part in Second Nature, a new work by Matthew Aucoin, fter which he will be back at CCM completing his DMA in Voice.

After having spent several years on the coaching faculty of the International Performing Arts Institute in Bavaria, pianist-coach Sam Martin will stay stateside working at the Opera Company of Middlebury (VT) as a young artist coach. Verdi’s Macbeth, playing concerts, and coaching the young artist singers in the program, will occupy his time, after which he returns to CCM to work on his DMA and helm his brainchild, the Art Song Initiative.

Christopher Brandon Morales will be joining Cincinnati Opera again as a core chorus member in their productions of Die Fledermaus, Fidelio, and Tosca. Soon after, he will be joining Virginia Opera as an Emerging Artist covering Caspar in Der Freischütz, Timur in Turandot, and Dr. Bartolo in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, all three “plums of the bass-baritone canon.

Mexican mezzo-soprano, Paulina Villareal was awarded a Mercer scholarship award to study at the Goethe Institute in Munich. She will then be in the chorus of the Cincinnati Opera productions of Fidelio, Tosca and Die Fledermaus, after which she will present a series of recitals in Mexico during the month of August. In the fall she returns to CCM to work on her DMA in voice.

The encouraging sign is that these young artists are already putting food on their table while still in college. They are starting their professional careers by virtue of enterprise, imagination and resourcefulness even while in college. They are getting their foot in the door by singing or covering a role in a new opera while the composer and creative team are in attendance and very much on the lookout for fresh talent.

They are not fully dependent on the young artist programs in which they will participate to be the career silver bullet, for there is no such thing. They are starting their own organizations, such as chamber opera groups that are springing up all over the United States led by young artists.

Opera singers lucky enough to get a chorus contract with one of the few first rank opera companies that play in the summer (such as Cincinnati’s own) can also bank some money to continue to pursue their studies at summer’s end or, if just about to graduate, start to pay off their college loans.

The German opera theaters are overpopulated by singers from every European nation, all vying for the same limited number of contracts in houses where being assured of a steady year-round gig is a crapshoot. The days of go audition in Germany or bust are long gone.

Soprano Fotina Naumenko, now at work on her DMA in Voice at CCM is about to embark on a European tour, not to audition but to sing with the noted choral ensemble Conspirare. Fotina is writing her own career story as she goes along, having just returned from a year in Russia on a Fulbright.

Speaking of writing one’s own career story, this writer is old enough to have witnessed up close the rise from near-anonymity to stunning stardom of the then young Marilyn Horne.

Permit then this digression.

As a soprano who still had to find that three-octave contralto, mezzo-soprano, soprano three-in-one voice that we all recognize at the drop of a needle, Ms. Horne had kicked around Hollywood doing voice-overs, she had sung for and with Stravinsky, she had gone to Germany and festered on a fest contract in Gelsenkirchen for several years, singing Musetta and German operettas.

Then came her Marie in Woyzeck, with the San Francisco Opera in 1961, opposite Geraint Evans. And, finally, she sang Semiramide opposite the then unknown Joan Sutherland. And the rest is operatic history.

Marilyn Horne did not follow a conventional path. Her musical and vocal training was outside the university/conservatory world. She did coach with Ernest St. John (Jack) Metz, the go-to west coast operatic guru back in those days. And she built that enormous edifice of a career her own way.

That reminds one of what we all see in these young friends and their budding careers: intelligently and inventively, they are building things up one building block at a time.








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