The three secretaries to Mao have all participated in the Lyric Opera Apprentice Program. They recently sat down with us to chat about their roles in Nixon in China, and during that conversation, shared with us why the Apprentice Program is a crucial learning opportunity.
You can watch a portion of that video interview here: http://youtu.be/gQSKGLUyrNs
Q: Describe your experiences with the Lyric Opera Apprentice Program.
Jennifer Powell: The apprentice program was an amazing experience. The opportunity to get to do roles with such a wonderful professional Company was a fantastic experience. You are doing professional roles at the same time as you are doing roles with your fellow students at your school – in my case it was UMKC – and you are learning so much from other working professionals. Just being on stage with them, observing them, talking with them about different aspects of the business. Those experiences were invaluable to me when I was an apprentice.
Q: Do Apprentices have access to principal and professional artists that other students or choristers do not have?
Kristee Haney: During Cosi fan Tutte, the Company set up a master class with the amazing Suzanne Mentzer about what it’s like to be a cover [Editor’s note: an understudy in the opera world], and how to make the most of the opportunity when you are a cover. We got such much extra information and value from that master class than we ever would have received in our regular studies. [Ms. Mentzer wrote a blog post for the Huffington Post about this master class. You can read about it here.]
Holly White: this is my 11th year with the Lyric Opera. I hadn’t sung much opera before working with the Company. Being in the chorus really got me interested in singing opera professionally. I was in the chorus a few years and then I begin the Apprentice Program, and from there things just started to blossom and opera really started be a part of my life. The Apprentice Program really challenged me professionally. Every role and opportunity I received while I was an apprentice gave me more experience, and stretched me an as artist. Unless you’re a part of a really good apprentice program, singers just don’t have that same kind of opportunity.
Q: What do you hope to get out of your apprenticeship?
Ms. Haney: Many jobs (laughter). But seriously, it has put many more roles on my resume than I otherwise would not have had. Chorus work is wonderful, and there is leaning to be done as a chorister, but the fact that you are no longer “second girl from the left” is a big deal when you’re talking about developing your resume.
I would love to continue working with this amazing Company, but I also hope the Apprentice Program will allow me to develop my professional network and allow me to begin singing with other companies as well. Is that okay to say?
Q: Isn’t that what the program is for – to train to you to get work as a singer?!
All: Yes! Right! We want to work!
Q: As young singers yourselves, do you have any advice for young singers?
Ms. White: It’s such a challenge. You have to have support. Family and friends are great, but you need to educate yourself. You have to learn every aspect of music. You have to become a commodity in this business. With this piece [Nixon in China], my music theory classes are coming back to me and becoming so much more important (laughter).
Ms. Powell: I would encourage young singers to make sure they take the formal education part of learning the craft seriously. I never played an instrument in my life, but had to play a bell in an orchestral piece as part of my coursework. That experience made me learn to count bars of complicated music, just so I could go “ding” in the middle of the piece.
Ms. White: Listen to you mentors. There are so many people that want to share this business and make sure they are going the next generation of singer. Your mentors will teach you the aspects you cannot learn in school. Both sides are equally important.
Ms. Haney: Try it. You don’t know if you’ll like opera if you don’t try singing it. And singers sing. So look for opportunities to perform everywhere. Ask questions. There was a time when I was a little timid to ask, afraid that my questions were stupid. But like Holly said, the principal singers are so eager to help and keep the art form going, that you are missing an opportunity if you don’t ask them questions.
Ms. White: And love it because you’re lucky that you have the talent and that you can make a life singing.