In the early 2000s, when Elaine Alvarez was an undergraduate studying opera at the Manhattan School of Music, she always hoped she’d get a chance to perform at Chautauqua Institution.
“It’s one of those places that, as a singer, particularly a singer that came up in New York, it’s always (seemed like) this paradise … where great music happens,” she said. “I always wanted to be a part of it.”
Twenty years later, Alvarez was set to take the stage as the title role in Puccini’s Tosca for Chautauqua Opera’s 2020 season, a role she has performed with opera companies across Europe, but never stateside.
“This was going to be my debut this summer,” she said. “Here I was, I finally got to come to Chautauqua, and the pandemic prevents it.”
Instead, Alvarez made her virtual debut with Chautauqua Opera last week as a Visiting Guest Artist, working and meeting with the Opera’s 2020 Young Artists.
“The times that we are experiencing right now are very extraordinary for everyone, and people are experiencing a lot of loss, and a lot of hardship, and the arts world is really suffering,” Alvarez said. “So to see companies like Chautauqua figure out so quickly how to continue to produce art, and how to continue to engage their community, … it gives me a nice jolt of hope that music making and culture can continue if we adapt.”
Alvarez will appear with General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood and featured Young Artists Chasiti Lashay and Daniela Magura for Week Eight’s Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations with Chautauqua Opera. The event will air at 5 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 17, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.
The group will discuss the past week, answer audience questions and screen highlights from Alvarez’s virtual master class from last Wednesday. This was her first attempt at leading a master class since the pandemic began.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to work,” Alvarez said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to feel personal or disconnected, but actually it worked really beautifully. (Chautauqua Opera) quickly figured out how best to utilize technology to make it as (successful) as possible.”
Lashay was one of five Young Artists featured in the master class.
“I was really excited to work with (Alvarez), and it proved to be everything I thought it would be,” she said. “She has really good energy and she had a lot of great things to say. It was great to get to know her.”
Lashay has been participating in the program from her hometown of Houston, Texas. Recording performances out of her home and singing to pre-recorded audio tracks has prepared her for the challenges she expects to encounter as the opera world continues to adjust to its new restrictions.
“Most auditions that are going to start to happen are going to be video auditions,” she said. “Now I have the skill of creating my own recordings at home, and I know about lighting and where to set my camera and where to set my mic for better sound quality, so that’s something I’m definitely going to take away with me continuing on into this world of the unknown.”
Lashay and Magura will end the evening by premiering their songs from Composer-In-Residence Frances Pollock and Jerre Dye’s Chautauqua song cycle. Each piece in the 20-song cycle has been written specifically for each Young Artist, based on their personal experiences during the pandemic.
For Magura, moving back to her hometown of Naples, Florida, to live with her mom and sister brought back memories of her grandmother, who lived with her growing up and died a few years ago.
“My Nana bought my first singing lesson,” she said. “She always wanted somebody in the family to have a gift in music, and she would listen to me practice every day.”
Magura’s piece will pay tribute to these memories.
“I’ve felt more connected to her than ever recently,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been finding my way back to my true joy in this art, and that’s been a very beautiful and powerful experience for me, and the way that Frances and Jerre put it to music has just been so perfect.”
Although the pandemic has canceled her ― and the rest of the world’s ― plans, having time away from her typically non-stop schedule has given Magura a chance to remember why she started singing in the first place.
“I have the opportunity to go to the piano and make music for hours a day, … and I get to consider it my work? It’s brought me back to the joy of that,” she said. “I’ve really found so much gratitude in having this, and knowing that even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic I can still make music.”