Melinda Whittington is a Charlotte-based opera singer. She has performed locally with Opera Carolina, UNC-Charlotte and CPCC; in addition she tutors young singers. She will be writing for ASC this summer while in California as part of the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Young Artist program.
By Melinda Whittington
Over the next few months, I will be contributing posts about my experience as a Merola Young Artist at San Francisco Opera. This program has nurtured such talents as Deborah Voigt, Anna Netrebko, Susan Graham, Patricia Racette, Carol Vaness, Thomas Hampson, Dolora Zajick … the list goes on and on! For anyone who knows a little about opera, you know these are big footsteps to be following in! So, one can imagine there are a fair amount of nerves involved.
My anxiety about the importance of this program in launching my career was only heightened by the fact that I came down with an awful upper respiratory virus a week before my arrival in San Francisco. I was unable to sing, and even mental practice was difficult for the entire week before arriving at this incredibly prestigious and important opportunity.
The effects lingered for the first week of the program; exacerbated, I’m sure, by my stress level and flying in the thick of it. It’s interesting what happens to the performer in this sort of situation. The connection between the mind and the body is astounding – for better or worse! I have learned how crucial it is to exercise control over that downward spiral of the mind that happens when sick, and when slowly recovering. When the edges of your range come back at the pace of a half step per day, you learn the true meaning of patience.
Although I was unable to sing or perform the first week, I was able to observe and sponge it all in! We have had classes and lessons with Deb Birnbaum, an expert on the use of the breath; Sanford Sylvan, a world-renowned baritone and voice teacher; Robin Guarino, stage director at all the big houses and acting instructor at CCM, and the famous Warren Jones, a coach-accompanist who works with all the greats, who actually grew up in High Point, N.C.!
The second week, I was able to slowly get to work. In addition to my individual lessons with these master artists, we began staging the Schwabacher Summer Concert, in which I am singing Anna Bolena in Donizetti’s thrilling Act 2 confrontation duet with Jane Seymour, and Catherine Glover in scenes from Bizet’s La jolie fille de Perth.
Two memorable events of these first few weeks were seeing my first performance in San Francisco Opera’s War Memorial Opera House, and then singing on that stage! I was able to attend the opening night performance of John Adams’ Nixon in China, and will soon attend performances of SFO’s other summer operas, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Verdi’s Attila.
This theater seats 3,146, with standing room for 200 more. To put that in perspective, it’s slightly smaller than the Metropolitan Opera and Chicago Lyric Opera, but larger than most European houses, like La Scala, Vienna State Opera, and Paris Opera, as well as our own beautiful Belk Theater which seats 2,100. We are all auditioning for the general director of SFO in a few weeks, and were given a practice audition last weekend, to get used to singing on the stage. WOW. Standing in the middle of that 52 foot-wide proscenium opening and looking out at those 3,146 seats was a dream come true! In a few short months, I will look out and see people in those seats and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in the pit, and I will be one gigantic leap closer to my dream of having a professional opera career.