Monday, July 16, 2018

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SDSU students pose with David Adam Moore (center), baritone opera professional, after attending his master class. SDSU students pose with David Adam Moore (center), baritone opera professional, after attending his master class.

Mastering the Craft: Operatic Arts

SDSU is partnering with San Diego Opera to host master opera classes open to the public.
By Melissa Buendia

This semester, SDSU NewsCenter will focus on the arts with stories of the creative endeavors of our students, faculty, staff and alumni.     

As part of the university-wide effort to highlight the arts on campus, this spring, San Diego State University’s School of Music and Dance is partnering with San Diego Opera to offer master classes led by professional opera singers from the company.

“Opera is often viewed as an elitist art and we want to change that. By opening up these classes we have the opportunity to introduce our students and the public to the human beings creating this art,” said Laurinda Nikkel, the vocal arts coordinator for SDSU's School of Music and Dance.

The classes are being held for free and are open for observation by members of the SDSU community.

A three-part ensemble

This partnership has been a long time coming according to Nikkel and Director of Education and Outreach at San Diego Opera, Nicolas Reveles. It finally came time to make the partnership a reality for not just SDSU, but other universities around San Diego.

“Three years ago, Nic Reveles came to us to offer to supply cast members from their season’s productions on a regular basis. This year SD Opera Director Ian Campbell announced that they would like to begin a more formal partnership with us and two other universities in San Diego,” Nikkel said.

The partnership is shared among SDSU, the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University.

During the two-hour classes, four to five students perform for a professional opera singer and are given feedback and advice.

“The guest artists will work with each of them on every part of their performances from technical vocal issues, character development and what to wear at a professional audition. Students and audience members can ask questions about the artist’s own training and how they balance professional and personal lives,” Nikkel said.

Cue the career

Like any other field of study, it is important for students to gain as much hands-on experience about the profession they want to pursue a career in.

By working with San Diego Opera, one of the top 10 companies in the United States ranked by Opera America, students are able to understand what goes into creating quality opera productions.

“Students learn first-hand what life is like as an opera singer both on and off the stage at the classes,” Nikkel said.

Another component of the master classes is exposing vocal students to a professional operatic-arts audition process.

“One of the first things we are going to do is offer the young singers an opportunity to audition in April at the Civic Theater. It is a great opportunity for students to experience and to see what it is like to audition in a theater with 3,000 seats and see what it really means to be an opera singer,” Reveles said.

Students will be selected to by their voice teachers at their university to audition for Campbell, San Diego Opera’s general and artistic director. Students who go through the audition process may be invited to participate in performances and mentorship opportunities with San Diego Opera.

“From that audition, we’ll have a better idea of what the talent pool is and come up with a pool of eight to 10 singers from the three universities to come join the company and mentor them,” Reveles said.

Reveles hopes that this program will function as a gateway to their professional careers. Mentees will be able to spend time with the opera’s music production department and staff to see how a professional opera company functions. They will also take part in company performances.

“The students are offered some professional experience by being part of the company doing concerts and events, particularly outside of opera season,” Reveles said.

Upcoming shows

The next master class will be held at 2 p.m., Wednesday, March 12, at Smith Recital Hall in the Music Building, led by San Diego Opera’s bass-baritone singer, Ashraf Sewailam. Originally from Egypt, Sewailam’s career began at the Cairo Opera Company as a principal artist. He also holds a Doctor in Musical Arts degree in Vocal Pedagogy, the study of voice instruction.

“Ashraf Sewailam will hear from four to five students and offer as much as he can about vocal technique, correct pronunciation of the languages and breathing,” Reveles said.

Students from several community colleges in Southern California have been invited to attend along with guest singers from three other schools.

“We know how fortunate we are to have this opportunity and want to share it with schools who can’t offer this kind of instruction. We are excited to meet Mr. Sewalaim,” Nikkel said.

Upcoming master classes offered this semester by San Diego Opera include:

  • Master class with Soprano and Author: Susan Kane – 4 p.m., Wednesday, March 26 at Rhapsody Hall, Music Building
  • Workshop and master class with Bass: Eduardo Chama – 4 p.m., Monday, April 7 at Room M20, Music Building
  • Workshop and master class with OPERAWORKS Founder and Artistic Director: Ann Baltz – 2 p.m., Wednesday, April 30 at Smith Recital Hall, Music Building

"It is both de-mystifying and awe-inspiring to learn the professional's individual stories, their personal feelings about singing and about their operatic characters. We want to share both this experience and our own students' talents with our community on campus and beyond," Nikkel said.