Behind every opera debut lies years of putting in the hard yards. Jeremy Vincent sings the praises of Australia's own operatic training ground, The Opera Studio Melbourne [Gertrude Opera].
Joyce Di Donato, Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann, Juan Diego Florez – all stars burning brightly on our operatic landscape. But how do these singers reach the pinnacle of performance and get to take the last bow on opening night at The Met, Covent Garden or La Scala? It makes a good story that they are ‘blessed’ with natural talent, and have been shot to stardom, but the reality has been a slow build; gathering skills, trying on roles, building stamina, trial and error, over many years. There is no fast-track to a career onstage in opera. Theirs is no instant catapult from the finals of The Voice, or The X Factor. Winning a major competition can open doors, and provide much needed prize/get-out-of-debt money, but it doesn’t always lead to a principal contract. And rarely does someone get plucked from obscurity in the chorus at a moment’s notice. It takes years of determination and dedication to climb the operatic ladder, each rung intrinsically linked, building what might, eventually, be called an operatic career.
Forty years ago American Catherine Filene Shouse dreamed of giving young people a chance to truly experience the demands of a professional career, preparing and presenting an opera season, and Wolf Trap Opera, like the 55 year old Merola Program in San Francisco, has since developed into one of America’s most highly regarded residency programs for emerging professionals. Kim Witman, current Director of Wolf Trap, insists “Young artists need a place between the closed laboratory of the University/Conservatory and the high-stakes stages of the professional world. They must be given an opportunity to take responsibility, sink or swim, learn from mistakes….”.
Here in Melbourne, Artistic Director of The Opera Studio Melbourne [Gertrude Opera] Linda Thompson wholeheartedly agrees. “The degree of multi-tasking required to convincingly perform on stage whilst singing easily and beautifully cannot be underestimated. Opera is not only on stage now; it is beamed onto screens in public squares and cinemas and YouTube. Beyond singing lessons, to achieve the best from career aspirations, a young singer needs to step out of the voice studio and into the theatrical world. There are vicious critics out there in opera. Only by carefully guided experience on stage, in theatrical situations, will he or she be prepared for the complexities and responsibilities of life as a professional artist.” Linda Thompson founded The Opera Studio Melbourne after more than ten years on the teaching staff at the University of Melbourne and VCA, and seven years as Head of Voice at Monash University. She is still engaged as a principal singer with Opera Australia, and her own career development has provided her with skills and expertise which span performer, director, producer and academic. Her dedication to the art of opera and a genuine firsthand knowledge of the qualities and tools it takes to become an opera professional, has enabled The Opera Studio [Gertrude Opera] to nurture the careers of many young artists.