Opera Conservatory put personal touches on recital program

Opera Conservatory student Katie Malone, soprano, rehearses Strauss’ Amor (Brentano Lieder) with Kanae Matsumoto Giampietro Tuesday evening in McKnight Hall as Voice students prepare for a recital set for 7 p.m. tonight in McKnight. Brett Phelps/Staff Photographer

Zoe Kolenovsky
Staff writer

This evening presents Chautauquans with the final opportunity this summer to see students of the Opera Conservatory in the intimacy of a recital, as they perform a series of solo arias and ensemble pieces.

The performance will begin at 7 p.m. tonight in McKnight Hall, as head coach Donna Gill leads 23 of the Chautauqua Opera Conservatory’s students through a program spanning four centuries of classics.

“(For) most of the recitals so far, we’ve been working with composers or having a theme,” said soprano Maya Goell. “This one will be the first where it’s really just us preparing the pieces and performing.”

The students selected pieces for themselves, choosing works they can add to their repertoire for auditions or future roles.

“You really have to brand yourself,” said mezzo Vanessa Yearsley. “The recital’s program is whatever the singer feels really showcases their talent.”

The evening begins with three solo performances by mezzo Zoe Brooks, mezzo Matilda Smolij, and tenor Evan Katsefes, with Gill on piano.

“Everyone’s put their own influence on it,” Katsefes said of the process working with many of the Conservatory coaches to prepare his piece for tonight.

Katsefes will be singing Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, a series of seven songs that he said describes “the bliss of love.”

“The first poem speaks of walking on a wonderful afternoon in May, holding hands with someone you love,” he said. “Over the arc of the seven songs, the love becomes different until finally, at the end, you let it go. You grow apart and you become different people, and it’s something that passes.”

This is Katsefes’ fourth summer studying at Chautauqua, and his focus has shifted from working on his technical skills to developing his emotional range as a performer.

“I’m focusing not on anything vocal, but on being a vulnerable and expressive performer,” he said. “I’m working to hone the belief in myself, so when I get up onstage I’m saying something from within me, something true to myself … and hopefully the audience can take away something that helps them, that shows them about themselves, as well.” 

Katsefes will be followed by soprano Katie Malone and resident coach Kanae Matsumato Giampetro on piano. Next will be two duets: baritones Jack O’Leary and Nicholas Gryniewski performing two songs from Ravel’s Don Quichotte a Culcinee, then soprano Charlotte Jakobs and mezzo Natalie Corrigan singing “Sanglots” from Francis Poulenc’s Banalites.

Four soloists will take the stage next: tenor James Allen, mezzo LaDeija Bittle, mezzo Anna Klausli and bass-baritone Fabian-Jakob Balkhausen. Next, Yearsley is set to sing a piece that hits close to home, although she is nursing an ankle injury that may keep her from performing.

“I was planning to sing ‘Must the Winter Come So Soon’ from an opera called Vanessa, by Samuel Barber,” she said. “It’s a really depressing moment for the character. They’re up in Canada, so it’s really cold, people feel alone. And it reminded me of conversations I’ve had with my relatives who live in Alaska.”

If Yearsley is able to join her colleagues, she will be followed by soloists Erica Thelen, soprano; Angelina Yi, soprano; and Gonzalo Ochoa-Camarena, tenor; all with resident coach Hyerim Song on piano.

Goell will perform next, delivering her rendition of Verdi’s “Sempre Libera” from La Traviata.

“I’m very excited to sing it,” she said. “I’ve been working on it for a while, but this will be my first time taking it out for a test drive. I’m planning on using it for auditions and competitions, and Chautauqua is really a safe space to try new things.”

The final two performances of the evening will be more of Verdi’s work. Soprano Jennifer Robinson will collaborate with bass-baritone YeongTaek Yang on “Parla… siam soli… Tutte le feste al tempio” from his opera Rigoletto. The night is set to end with a quartet: Robinson and Yang will be joined by mezzo Anna Maria Vacca and tenor Anthony Voiers to perform “Un di, se ben… Bella figlia dell’amore,” also from Rigoletto.

The students are excited to showcase their artistic development for the audience through some of their favorite works.

“My only priority this summer was to grow as a performer and really focus on my craft, because I spend every other month of the year juggling school with work,” Goell said.

Yearsley felt similarly. 

“I wanted to find my limits, find my strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “And the clear input from the faculty here at the Conservatory really helped me determine that.”

Katsefes felt the summer has been a transformative one for himself and his fellow students, and that their performances in tonight’s recital will reflect that growth.

“We all get to show what we’ve each learned in the past six weeks,” he said. “We’re showing how we’ve changed and grown, how we’ve become different in body and spirit. We’ve really influenced each other for the better.”


The author Zoe Kolenovsky