Chautauqua Opera Young Artists baritone Yazid Gray, soprano Kaitlyn Stavinoha and bass Seunghee Lee didn’t choose opera — it chose them.
“Opera was never something I did (as a child), because I didn’t understand it,” said Gray, who came from a church choir background.
It wasn’t until Gray’s voice teacher encouraged him to audition for a program with Washington National Opera that he realized opera wasn’t what he expected.
“It’s so nice to be able to get on stage without a mic and yell, in a sense,” Gray said, “and just to have so much power on stage and have all the focus be on you in that moment in time.”
Gray, Lee and Stavinoha will each perform repertoire that is familiar to them and show their passion for opera in the fourth Afternoon of Song recital at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, July 18 in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor. The three Young Artists will be accompanied by pianists Dottie Randall and Carol Rausch, music administrator for Chautauqua Opera.
Stavinoha said as she grew up, she was convinced her career was musical theater.
“I grew up with a very musical theater background,” Stavinoha said. “I wanted to be on the Broadway stage.”
She said her voice teacher encouraged her to sing some classical selections and audition for the high school voice studio at Houston Grand Opera.
“I got in, and it changed my life,” Stavinoha said. “I got this behind-the-scenes look into what it is to be an opera singer.”
She’ll open the program by singing “The Serpent” by Lee Hoiby, a selection she performed in high school.
“I actually performed it for the end-of-the-year recital, and that’s the last time I sang it,” Stavinoha said. “It was the first time I sang operatically in front of people.”
She will also perform a set by Franz Liszt, which she performed for her master’s program recital. Since her last performance of Liszt’s “La tombe et la rose,” Stavinoha has connected to the piece in a new way.
“I think that’s the exciting thing about art song,” she said. “In opera, we’re characters, but in art song, we get to be characters but also put yourself into the piece.”
When Lee was younger, he said he didn’t like to sing, but his mom put him in the church choir.
As Lee grew older, his voice teacher encouraged him to try opera. In his selections for the recital, he will sing three Korean songs, and “Aufenthalt from Schwanengesang” by Franz Schubert.
“When I first started singing, my voice teacher gave me this piece,” Lee said. “Now, it’s my first time singing it after 15 years.”
Gray is also revisiting songs he has performed in the past, as he will sing selections from Three Dream Portraits by Margaret Bonds.
“I think I’m most excited for the Three Dream Portraits only because I haven’t performed them in a while,” Gray said. “It’s such a powerful message — each tells a story about the black experience in America.”
Rausch found that each Young Artist was unexpectedly pulled into opera through the songs they selected — songs they performed at some point early in their operatic careers.
“For all three (Young Artists), this isn’t originally what they were going for,” Rausch said. “Somehow our paths have all converged in opera.”
The Young Artists are eager to share the vast variety of songs that have particularly influenced their careers. Recitals are a perfect way to show the melting pot of opera musical styles, Rausch said.
“Everybody is doing something in their native language that I think is important to them, while also doing things that are outside their native language,” Rausch said.
The recital closes with Hoiby’s “Where the music comes from,” which brings the program full circle for Stavinoha.
“I think music comes from everywhere, and that’s the point of it,” she said.