Understanding their aria


    Photo by Bryan Huebner / North by Northwestern

    For many, Bienen’s Voice and Opera department is a mystery, except for the tunes we hear coming out of the Music Administration Building at all hours of the day. Here is a glance into three opera students’ aspirations and everyday lives.

    Joseph Schuster, Junior

    If you had to explain opera to someone that has never heard anything about it, what would you say?

    What I hear most frequently about opera is it’s old and stuffy. This is so wrong. The Metropolitan Opera in New York just did an opera called Two Boys: Two boys meet on the Internet and [it] is not stuffy at all. There are so many hilarious operas where no one commits suicide or kills anyone. Opera really is for everyone and the situations the characters find themselves in are so timeless.

    What other kinds of singing experience do you have?

    As someone singing classically now, one of my most seemingly shameful vocal experiences was the four years I spent in high school show choir. Madison East ENCORE Show Choir. Youtube us. People here were so confused when I started as a freshman. I never really learned how to sight read until college because we only sang about 10 songs in a year. College choir was a huge shock, as were ear training classes. I also sang a lot of musical theatre in high school with my private voice teacher, but never sang anything but chorus in community theatre productions.

    What is the easiest part of being in the Voice and Opera department?

    Making friends! The people in this department are so kind and passionate about what we all do. We tend to be a little cult-like, but I think it’s awesome that I get to have classes with the same people for four years. I wouldn’t change my friends for the world.

    And the hardest part?

    Being told no, or not having good results from an audition. Those can be very damaging because oftentimes, you take it personally. You have to focus on the long game and how to take the criticism constructively.

    What do you love most about opera?

    I love music because of all the doors it opens to other disciplines. You can learn about music history and how it coincides with world history and art history. You get to learn about sound physics and how resonance explains what you do vocally, as well as how it can enhance what you’re doing. Then there’s all the text that is set to music, which ties into writing, literature, poetry, and drama. Opera ends up, in my opinion, being the culmination of all these things. Art in the sets and costumes, drama in the text and music, history in explaining why musical decisions are made to make it stylistically appropriate, science to help you project your voice into the performance hall.

    Natasha Nassar, Sophomore

    When did you start singing and why?

    When I look back on my life so far, I can see that music has always been a central part of it. As a child, my father always played recordings of classical music around the house, and I would sing along. At seven, I was given my first CD: American soprano Ruth Ann Swenson singing various arias from Verdi’s La Traviata. I immediately fell in love with opera, and decided then and there I wanted to be an opera singer. I started taking voice lessons that very summer. I couldn’t truly comprehend the concepts and meaning behind opera, but I knew it gave me a voice as well as a way to express myself.

    What do you love most about opera?

    It is the point where the physical, the mental and the emotional meet. It captures the different elements of humanity and mankind through music, text and artistry.

    What is the biggest lesson you have received while studying opera?

    The importance of making yourself vulnerable. The process of singing in front of professors and peers can seem extremely scary because it exposes you and strips you down to your bare self. It was not until I learned to let my guard down and become vulnerable that I was able to truly take in and comprehend what I was being taught.

    Frank Laucerica, Freshman

    If you had to explain opera to someone that has never heard anything about it, what would you say?

    A culmination of art, theatre, music and emotion. It is a genre of art that can make you feel as if you are in another world, but still impact your perception on your own world.

    When did you start singing and why?

    When I joined choir in first grade. I always was a fan of musical movies and my mom suggested I join.

    Why did you choose Northwestern?

    When I was in the ninth grade, I came to Chicago on a choir trip and visited the school. I was immediately in love with the atmosphere of the campus and was well aware of its renowned music school.

    What is the easiest part of studying voice and opera?

    One of the easier parts is being surrounded by people who you know you share a strong love with.

    And the hardest part?

    The competitive nature of the program, in the way that all the students are so talented that it is easy to be intimidated.

    What do you love most about opera?

    Opera can transport a person into any story, any time period, any world. It can so effortlessly take someone through a universe of feelings and ways of thinking.


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