Trying to get a clean vocal recording in a house full of two excitable dogs and a hypersensitive Amazon Alexa was a challenge Eric Botto didn’t expect to be tackling six months ago.
“(There’s) all this chaotic energy,” said Botto, a tenor and one of Chautauqua Opera Company’s Young Artists for the 2020 season. “It’s definitely been an interesting experience to say the least, but it’s been working.”
He’s participating in the virtual Young Artists Program from his home in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“I’m most blown away by how quickly the entire Institution was able to jump to this digital frontier, and how successful it’s been,” Botto said. “I never knew I could learn so much behind an iPad.”
Botto, fellow Young Artist and tenor Jared V. Esguerra and Week Six Guest Artist Chauncey Packer will join General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood for this week’s Cocktails, Concerts and Conversation with Chautauqua Opera. The event will air at 5 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 3, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.
Botto, Esquerra and Packer will discuss the previous week of work, answer questions and screen highlights from Packer’s master class, which Botto and Esuqerra attended last Wednesday.
“Listening to (Packer’s) voice in the master class was so inspiring,” Esquerra said. “You could hear the passion and the natural technique that he’s been able to instill in his (voice) for so long.”
Esguerra is currently living at home with his family in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Watching his mother, a nurse, and brother, a physical therapist, work through the pandemic has been a humbling experience.
“They’ve been working every day, going to the hospital and trying to save lives,” he said. “I would like to help them save the world, but I just don’t know how right now. It’s nice just to be able to take care of some family members, knowing that they’re doing really good work.”
Packer is a tenor who recently performed in the Metropolitan Opera’s critically acclaimed 2019-20 production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. This season he was set to make his Chautauqua debut as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca and Jo the Loiterer in Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All.
This was Packer’s first attempt at leading a master class since quarantine started. Working with the Young Artists left him inspired and excited.
“As artists we are our own business, and the uncertainty around (this next year) is quite great,” Packer said. “To have moments like (these) where we left those things outside and we interacted as artists and as carriers of the artform of opera, we dug in and we did a day of work … that was quite thrilling.”
He commended Chautauqua Opera for putting together a digital program on such short notice.
“Kudos to Chautauqua and their willingness to jump out there and say, ‘We’re going to try. Even if we fail, at least we will have tried to offer these Young Artists something,’” he said.
Botto appreciated that Packer, who has a background in theater as well as opera, focused on physicality as well as sound.
“It’s not just about how we sound, it’s how we look and how we express and how we communicate that with the gifts that we have through theater,” he said. “To say the least, I was very blown away (by Packer), and I wish we had more time because I’m sure I have more questions.”
Botto and Esguerra will end the evening by premiering recordings of their a capella pieces from Composer-in-Residence Frances Pollock and librettist Jerre Dye’s Chautauqua song cycle. All 20 pieces have been written specifically for each Young Artist, inspired by interviews Pollock and Dye conducted at the beginning of the season.
Both tenors were shocked to see how their words looked transformed into poetry.
“I had no idea they were going to literally use what I was saying until I saw the piece,” Esguerra said. “I thought we were just talking so they could get my vibe.”
For Botto, the piece helped put into words something he had been trying to figure out how to communicate for a while.
“The song itself is more spiritual. It’s kind of (about) a spiritual awakening during this time of hardship,” he said. “Those are sometimes things that I struggle with communicating to people — not because I don’t want to — but sometimes it’s like, how do you put those other-worldly things into words? That’s why I think music is so important, because it acts as that vessel.”