Opera Young Artists Show Cultural Colors at ‘I Too Sing America’ Afternoon of Song

  • Sidney Ragland

Chautauqua Opera Company Young Artist Sidney Ragland grew up in California, surrounded by Gospel music and his Creole culture. The soulful sounds of Gospel and rhythm and blues  influenced his voice even as he transitioned to opera.

“The music was always just a thing in the house and the church,” Ragland said. “Though I won’t be singing much French, the Spanish is a big part of it, as well as spiritual, because that is the community that I come from and how we worship and express our spirit.”

At 4:15 p.m. today in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor, three of the Young Artists will express their cultural influences in celebration of the Fourth of July in the second Afternoon of Song Recital, titled “I Too Sing America.” Ragland, along with mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Beteag and soprano Cristina María Castro, will perform some of their favorite selections that showcase their diverse backgrounds.

Miriam Charney, the accompanist and coach for Chautauqua Opera, said this recital is a chance to show that the country is stronger because of its vast array of ethnicities.

It’s not a new concept, but it’s one that seems to be discussed and dismissed a little too easily these days,” Charney said.

Castro grew up in Texas, surrounded by her Puerto Rican culture. She said honoring her heritage and being immersed in an ethnically diverse community has always been a part of her life.

“I grew up around it, and it was just normal,” Castro said. “For me, I saw a lot of Mexican and Cuban immigration in San Antonio, so we were really connected to those communities — it just doesn’t seem new to me.”

She will sing a few German and English selections, and finish her set with a Puerto Rican piece called “Preciosa.”

The title for the program, “I Too Sing America” — a quote from a poem by Langston Hughes — was suggested by Ragland, who said he is looking forward to revisiting some old songs and offering a message of acceptance through music.

Ragland said it is difficult for people to embrace different races, cultures and communities, even in modern society.

It’s important that we embrace it now,” he said.

For Beteag, her family heritage is a strong reason for her musical inclination. Her ancestors were from Germany, Romania and Poland. Beteag is going to honor her German roots in particular by singing selections from one of her favorite composers: Johannes Brahms.

“I call Brahms my ‘roll out of bed and sing’ music because I love it so much,” Beteag said. “So I am really excited to share that.”

At the end of the recital, the three Young Artists will sing “Lady of the Harbor,” composed by Lee Hoiby with text from the poem by Emma Lazarus, to bring the celebration of America full circle. Charney said the recital is made up of songs that truly show America.

“(The Fourth of July has) always been a white holiday, and that’s not what the country is all about,” Charney said.   

The Young Artists hope the recital gives people a chance to not only listen to opera but to remind people about all the different pieces that make up America.

We’re bringing people back to their roots a little bit and remembering that almost everybody was an immigrant,” Beteag said. “No matter how far removed we are, we all came here, so that is something to be celebrated.

The author Tina Giuliano

Tina Giuliano is a rising junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, where she studies broadcast journalism and Spanish. She serves as the multimedia managing editor at her school’s paper, The State Press. She is excited to begin covering opera for the Daily. When she’s not diving into her journalism career, she’s probably rewatching “The Office,” at a soccer game or figuring out which flavor of ice cream to eat.