Hand-picked Pavarottis to sing in the new season

This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Tuesday, June 28, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

A singer’s life is not just about music. It’s about stage presence, drama and belting to the nosebleed section. Today at 1 p.m. in McKnight Hall, students in the Chautauqua School of Music’s Voice Program will celebrate the beginning of an intense summer season with the annual “sing-in” event.

Although the roles for the Voice Program’s two summer operas have already been cast, the sing-in will allow Voice Chair Marlena Malas to confirm her choices among a group of 45 hand-picked Pavarottis from around the world. As singers from ages 17 to 31 introduce themselves through song, the sing-in is, more than anything, an icebreaker.

“Everybody learns from everybody,” Malas said.

As per tradition, the Voice Program produces two operas each season that purposfully contrast in musical styles. This year’s choices are Giacomo Puccini’s early 20th-century comic opera Gianni Schicchi and the more contemporary English-language opera The Crucible by Robert Ward, based on the play of the same name by Arthur Miller.

“I hesitated to do [The Crucible] because it is a big opera for big voices,” Malas said.

But Malas has faith in her students, many of whom have graduated from Chautauqua into careers at the Metropolitan Opera and other famous opera companies. Voice students in this program audition throughout the summer for scouts who visit the festival seeking the wealth of new talent in this program.

Slightly out of tradition is a program that will only run during the first week of the festival but is concentrated on physical wellness more than music.

“It’s important to keep myself in the best frame of mind,” Malas said. “And if you’re singing, you need to feel positive energy and flexibility.”

That’s why Malas has included both yoga and Tai Chi classes for her voice students this year. Since voices, especially those of people training for opera, mature later in life, it is critical to support that physical and mental development in every way.

Malas never accepts audition tapes. She requires all of her students to audition in person so that she can assess their energy, talent and passion for music up close.

“Every year I’m told to accept no more than 38 students,” Malas said. “Somehow it doesn’t work out that way.”

Some students this year have traveled from Australia, Poland and Mexico to be a part of the Voice Program. These students haven’t just crossed oceans for a summer camp — they’ve traveled to Chautauqua to embark on their new careers.

UPDATE: The headline and story have been changed to correct the spelling of Pavarotti.