In February, Wendy Bryn Harmer was a few hours into an international flight when she learned her job with an opera company in Tokyo had been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
“(They) were just like, ‘It is what it is.’ There was no discussion of how to make something work,” she said.
While she understands every opera company has been facing unprecedented circumstances, Harmer is glad the Young Artists of Chautauqua Opera have had a different experience.
“I really, really appreciate that Chautauqua is trying to do something to give their Young Artists an experience this summer that is going to help them, even nominally,” she said. “Most (opera) companies I know, they canceled their season and everybody went home.”
Harmer, a soprano and alumna of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program was set to star as Susan B. Anthony in Virgil Thompson’s The Mother of Us All at the Institution this year. Instead she has spent the last week working with the Young Artists as one of Chautauqua Opera’s Guest Artists.
Harmer will be joining General and Artistic Director Stephen Osgood and featured Young Artists Samina Aslam and Shafali Jalota for Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations with Chautauqua Opera at 5 p.m. EDT on Monday, July 27, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.
Last week, Aslam and Jalota participated in a master class with Harmer.
“I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the master class worked virtually,” Harmer said. “All the voices I worked with, …, I could tell, even virtually, ‘Oh yeah, there’s something here, this is a real talent. I’m very curious to hear how this voice resonates in a hall, as opposed to their bedroom in Brooklyn.’”
Highlights of the master class will be screened during the event.
“It was really a great experience. (Harmer) just knows so much, and she’s a really kind, down-to-earth person,”Jalota said. “It was nice to work on the music in a safe space and get her feedback. She’s so honest and generous it was just really wonderful.”
Even though she couldn’t physically instruct the Young Artists, Harmer still emphasized the importance of the body, breathing and movement.
“Our instrument is our body, so she touched on that for a little bit, which I thought was really helpful,” Aslam said. “She is a really big believer that you have to warm up your body before you warm up your voice.”
At the end of the event, Aslam and Jalota will premiere their a capella pieces from Composer-in-Residence Frances Pollock and librettist Jerre Dye’s Chautauqua song cycle.
Every piece in the cycle has been composed specifically for the Young Artists, derived from interviews at the beginning of the season. The lyrics are often real lines of dialogue from these talks. In Aslam’s interview, she mentioned that yoga is an important part of her process, and Pollock incorporated that into the composition.
“My piece is actually tied to the whole idea of body awareness and breath,” she said. “So there’s actually breath written into the score for me to actually inhale and exhale.”
For Aslam, the experience of working with Pollock and Dye has been a silver lining of sorts.
“Through all of this,” she said, “through how new of a territory this is, and how unsettling (it) is for everyone, this really cool piece of art has been created for Chautauqua and for Chautauqua singers.”