This year, Chautauqua Opera Company’s Young Artists are performing for an unexpected new audience: their neighbors, roommates and significant others.
“Recording in my apartment has been an uphill battle,” said baritone Yazid Gray. “I feel bad because I’m yelling and screaming and singing loudly and everybody’s probably like, ‘I’m trying to do my work’ — because (we’re all) working from home — and it’s like, well, I am doing my work.”
Gray is participating in Chautauqua Opera’s 2020 virtual Young Artists program from his home in Pittsburgh.
“Other times I don’t feel bad, because my neighbors upstairs are very loud as well,” he said, “(And) all they’re doing is stomping.”
Gray, soprano Nicole Heinen and mezzo-soprano Max Potter, this week’s featured Young Artists, will appear in conversation with Bryce-Davis and General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood. The hour-long event will conclude with an audience Q-and-A.
As this week’s guest artist, Bryce-Davis spent the week meeting with the Young Artists and leading a virtual master class with Gray, Heinen and Potter, highlights of which will be screened during the evening.
“(The master class) was so much fun,” Bryce-Davis said. “I was kind of nervous, because I didn’t quite know how this virtual situation was going to go. I’d never really had to listen to singers live in this way before, but I think we were able to do really strong work.”
A watch party for the full master class will be held at 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 8, on the Virtual Porch.
Bryce-Davis went through the Young Artists program herself in 2014, where she played Mama McCourt in Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe.
“Chautauqua has always been an incredible community,” she said. “There’s just so much beauty in that place.”
Gray and Bryce-Davis had previously performed together in a production of Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers at Opera Maine. He was excited to work with her again.
“Her and I, we’ve developed a friendship,” Gray said. “She’s kind of been an older sister to me, which has been amazing.”
Participating in a virtual opera program has been full of its own unique opportunities and challenges for everyone involved.
“I’ve seriously become really good at recording and editing from this,” Heinen said. “(I used) get into this place where everything had to be perfect and I had no room for error, and now I’m just like, I trust my technique, we’re just going to do a couple (takes), and we’re going to be OK.”
Through pre-recorded videos, Gray, Heinen and Potter will premiere three more pieces of Composer-in-Residence Frances Pollock and librettist Jerre Dye’s a cappella song cycle. Each piece has been composed specifically for each Young Artist.
All three Young Artists had strong emotional reactions to reading their pieces for the first time.
“It’s so personal,” Gray said. “Part of my piece connects to my mom and how I started singing with her and with my family. I got the lyrics from (Dye), and I started tearing up.”
Before recording, the Young Artists workshopped their pieces with Pollock and Dye, which offered more opportunities for customization.
“With Classical era, Romantic era music, it’s like, ‘You must do this, you must follow these rules on this trill,’” Heinen said. “(With) this, there was a word that was really hard for me to sing way up in the stratosphere, and (Pollock and Dye) said, ‘Oh, let’s change it.’ I was like, ‘We can do that?’”
The experience has given Potter a new way to approach any piece.
“The truth is, when you sing anything, you’re supposed to make it yours,” she said. “This has been a really cool, internal deep dive for me; how do I incorporate that sensation now into everything I do? How do I make everything my own?”