A few years ago, I had an idea about how to make young singers' lives more accessible to others, either people who were just interested, but especially to other young students who might be thinking about pursuing a career in classical music. So many people out there in the wide world have very few inklings about what goes into learning to sing -- especially opera. I thought someone should follow around a singer for a year and see what their life was like.
Why? Because there's a lot of misinformation out there about what it takes to become successful in opera and I wanted to expose a bit more of the truth. Oftentimes people are surprised to find out that one can major in opera studies. Too often I'm asked some surprising questions by audience members: Do the students do their own stagings? or, Do the students make their costumes too? No, and, no.
I wanted to answer questions that I've been asked over the decades: What kind of young person studies opera? What do they do every week? How long does it take to rehearse an opera? What goes into these operas? What makes the student experience with Opera McGill special?
What does a year in the life of an opera student look like?
A few years ago I'd met an amazing videographer, Anne Kostalas. Anne has spent hundreds of hours creating dozens of terrific video "trailers" for Opera McGill productions (here are two links to check out: Rodelinda Preview & Midsummer Preview), creating the wonderful Shakespeare Sessions documentary, (here's the link to all six parts -- please do watch it! Year of Shakespeare 6 Episodes), as well as becoming a fixture in the Montreal opera scene (her work can also be seen on the Opéra de Montreal's Atelier website: Atelier Young Artist Profile).
Anne was excited about taking on this project, but I'm not sure she or I knew just how much time and effort it would take to really get the story. We decided to follow three students: Chelsea Rus, a soprano in her 2nd year of her masters degree; Jonah Spungin, a baritone finishing up his bachelors degree, and Rose Naggar-Tremblay, a mezzo-soprano in the middle of her bachelors degree. All three were cast in multiple shows, all three led very busy lives -- Anne captured so much more than just their operatic lives.
When I asked Anne about the finalized documentary she said, "Sure it was hard work but I'm convinced filming and editing this documentary was nothing compared to how hard these young singers work every day."
A huge thanks to Jonah, Rose, and Chelsea who, as Anne puts it, "were very generous to let me into their lives. I was shocked recently to see that over the last year we had texted each other more than 600 times." When audiences watch these episodes, they'll see many of those 'behind the scenes' staff who are instrumental in making Opera McGill happen -- from our design team, to the Schulich School voice teachers and vocal coaches, but also to the community of friends and family that surrounds these students.
Interestingly, the question that neither of these three students ever asked me directly was "why was I chosen?"
Well -- these three students represent the best in all of the hundreds of students I've taught over the years. Students who are dedicated, who work hard to achieve high standards of excellence in performance, but who also live interesting lives outside of their studies while pursuing goals beyond their academic work. Most importantly, though, these students represent the POTENTIAL in every student who studies classical music.
This potential is dynamic and practically thermonuclear! It explodes everyday in the practice room, in the classroom, in the studios and rehearsal spaces, and on the stage here at the Schulich School of Music and all over the world.
Rose, Jonah, and Chelsea were quite gracious under the scrutiny of the camera, as Anne told me recently, "Opera McGill could not have wished for three finer ambassadors." I couldn't agree more!
A huge, massive THANK YOU to Anne Kostalas. I'm such a huge fan of her work -- she sees stories where so many do not -- and am thrilled at how this documentary seems like a love letter to not just Opera McGill, but to the McGill campus and all the people who study and work here.
So without further delay...
We've decided to launch the last of the three episodes here on my blog! If you haven't seen the first two episodes, please watch them too!
A Year In The Life: Episode ONE
A Year In The Life: Episode TWO
And here is the final episode, following Chelsea competing in the finals of the Wirth Voice Prize, Jonah deciding his future while performing in operetta and recital, and Rose putting together her role in Opera McGill's spring production of Rodelinda. (Plus graduation video!)
A Year In The Life: Episode THREE