Southeast Missouri State University students Jeremy Bates, Brittany Moleski, Kendall Staggs and Kylie Toerpe recently participated in intensive opera programs in Europe to improve their voice and performance skills.
Bates, of Pacific, Missouri, and Toerpe, of Downers Grove, Illinois, studied with the William Lewis School of Opera’s Franco-American Vocal Academy (FAVA) in Angers, France. Moleski, of St. Louis, Missouri, studied with the Boston Conservatory Opera Intensive in Valencia, Spain. Staggs, of Jackson, Tennessee, studied with the American Austrian Mozart Academy (AAMA) in Salzburg, Austria.
A typical day for the students included music and staging rehearsals, private voice lessons, song coaching sessions, language lessons and occasional master classes.
Moleski, a senior vocal performance and music education double major, said her program included seminars on important topics in the opera, music or performance world.
“These were some of the most insightful seminars I’ve ever been to,” she said. “Working and learning throughout this program was like sewing every single stitch into a piece of music. It was all about experimenting with the little details that are often overlooked.”
Bates, a senior vocal education major, said he chose the FAVA program to enhance his knowledge of the French language.
“Performing in their language, and being told they could understand everything I was singing was a very fulfilling experience and a great test for me,” he said.
“I was intrigued because the program was putting on a production of ‘The Magic Flute,’” said Staggs, a senior vocal performance major. “It is my favorite Mozart opera.”
For Toerpe, a senior vocal performance major, the six-week FAVA program also offered extensive performance experience with two full operas.
“It was rewarding to put on a full show in a short amount of time,” she said. “I learned that working towards the goals of recitals with only weeks to prepare is quite a process.”
The programs offered the students opportunities to work with other opera performers and professors from various backgrounds and expertise.
“It can be difficult to suddenly work in close proximity with people that you have never met,” Toerpe said. “It can also be the most eye-opening and unforgettable experience.”
Moleski agreed, adding “My professors were top-notch, and it was amazing how all of the singers would help each other improve.”
Working with and seeing world-renowned performers was also an opportunity these programs offered.
For Moleski, working with Metropolitan Opera leading lady and eminent soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domas was her most enjoyable experience.
“She was amazing,” Moleski said. “She gave me extra voice lessons, life lessons and I even got to watch her in her own rehearsal.”
Being able to perform in full production operas was the highlight of their experiences.
Moleski performed in a Spanish song recital and in a “Così fan tutte” scene performance as Fiordiligi. Bates and Toerpe both performed in roles as Griolet in “La fille du tambour-major” and participated in recitals of French arias and art songs.
“The bass character, Sarastro, has always been a dream role of mine,” Staggs said of his character in “The Magic Flute.” “I jumped at the chance to bring that character to life.”
The growth the students experienced is already obvious in their studies at Southeast.
“They are more confident in their languages and performance,” said Dr. Christopher Goeke, professor of music. “They are more accustomed to working with different directors and conductors. I’m very proud of the initiative they showed in seeking these opportunities and incurring travel and program expenses themselves. Experience and training in opera is usually pursued by older students.”
The application process and cost to participate was a burden they were determined to overcome to gain the opportunities that would shape their careers, he said.
The students attribute their success at Southeast and abroad to their challenging and supportive professors.
“My time at Southeast has shaped me into the musician and the person I am today,” Toerpe said.
“Southeast has given me a strong musical foundation and the tools to develop further,” Staggs said. “I owe my teachers so much for getting me where I am now as a musician.”
After graduation, the students plan to attend graduate schools for vocal performance.
In January 2018, the students will perform in the Department of Music production of Pauline Viardot’s opera “Cinderella.”