Opera in the Ozarks a.k.a. opera bootcamp
This summer I experienced extremely vigorous, individualized, and life-changing training as an aspiring professional opera singer. I was challenged to extend my tools and talents beyond what I believed to be possible, and I grew tremendously as an artist, musician, and colleague. There were days when my body, mind, and instrument were completely synchronized and I felt unstoppable, and there were other days where I felt so disconnected from my body that I wasn't sure if I could provide a strong level of focus throughout the entire performance or rehearsal that day. However, what I learned is that no matter the circumstances a good performer and successful artist will find a system to ensure that the mind, body, and voice have a communal pathway to reconcile the realties of life; unpredictability, chance, good days, bad days, a memory lapse, not enough sleep, too much caffeine, or anything else that life decides to include in your day before you walk onto stage. I learned that confidence in what you have worked to refine is key, that doubting yourself will only put you several measures behind, and that accepting the instrument you have for what it is will only guide you towards the best and most successful career of which you could ever dream. So much of this career is spent refining, criticizing, and workshopping ourselves, and while that is extremely vital to our growth so is acceptance and belief in who you are as a person, singer, and artist. Many of these vital lessons I learned were simply extracted from day to day rehearsals working with colorful, vibrant, and passionate people, who all derive from very different backgrounds and experiences. I strongly recommend OIO for any singer looking to challenge themself from all perspectives as an artist. There are pros and cons to each summer program, but the training, amount of performance opportunities, and environment in Eureka Springs are extremely stimulating for the creative mind, and I know that I am forever altered in the most positive way after my experience.
The Location: (Life outside of OIO)
Eureka Springs contains some of the most gorgeous hiking trails, lakes, and views I have ever witnessed. Most mornings (or free-days), I took either a walk or went on a run with friends or by myself at Leatherwood reserve for several hours. During those walks I connected with my art and desire for expression with the nature around me and I was able to get to know the beautiful people that were embarking on the OIO journey with me. We went canoeing, got lost exploring interlacing trails, walked through overflowing hiking paths that looked like little streams and ponds after a big storm, and we sat in silence looking at the beautiful views around us, which were constant reminders of many of the important purposes for opera and classical music. Whether we were walking through Leatherwood or sitting at the bank of Beaver Lake or Starky Park, for each of us being in nature meant something different, I'm sure, but being surrounded by the sounds of animals moving about in the woods, streams rushing past us, the lake water brushing against the bank, and birds chirping brought each of us a tender sense of peace within ourselves.
When I wasn't hiking I also spent my free-time volunteering at a nearby barn with horses. I rode horses for several years growing up, and I was so lucky to have been able to have the barn as a place to relax, regroup, and enjoy being around great beauties. It was a perfect way for me to get some mental therapy when performances and rehearsals could feel stressful and exhausting. For me, it was probably one of the most special unexpected highlights of my time in Eureka Springs.
In addition to the beautiful outdoors, we spent many days relaxing and exploring downtown Eureka Springs. The town is filled with art! There are tons of artisan shops filled with handmade pottery, portrait and landscape paintings, glassware, photography, candles; basically anything you could imagine. Oh, and the food and coffee shops were amazing! There are lots of places to go for brunch on Sundays off, and great coffee shops with fast wifi whenever you have free time between rehearsals or shows. There are also fabulous places to go dancing and let go with all your colleagues after successful shows and long weeks at the point.
The Program: (Day to day, night to night at OIO)
OIO is an incredibly intensive program. Each day is packed with rehearsals and when you're not rehearsing you are either practicing, getting a coaching, or, if you have free-time, enjoying some time off out in town.
The first full day is audition day. These auditions provided the faculty with the opportunity to hear us live and also served as auditions for the scenes program that took place at the end of the summer. Immediately, however, by the next day everyone was thrusted into music rehearsals. Singers received rigorous ensemble and solo coachings throughout the first week, and before anyone could blink an eye staging rehearsals began. Each singer participated in at least two shows, having major roles in each, or in all or three of the four productions, having lead roles in one or two, and being part of the chorus in the others. Additionally, singers performed in masterclasses instructed by working singers at major houses, and singers were placed in several scenes.
I was cast as Mrs. Herring in Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring. I also participated in the chorus of Pagliacci and Don Giovanni. Each of these experiences were extremely informative, particularly the Britten. When I arrived to the Ozarks my music was learned but I did not truly understand Britten's music or how it is meant to be performed. By the end of the summer, however, I knew the opera inside and out, and as a result of the detailed guidance of Dr. Andrew Altenbach, our conductor, I feel that I understand how to study, memorize, and perform Britten more efficiently and effectively in the future. There were moments where I distrusted my abilities, but I learned that as long as I work hard and put in the hours and focus within my process I have no reason to feel insecure. This realization was both relieving and humbling all at the same time because it highlighted what my strengths were in my process and where I am in need of growth. There is nothing like the feeling of opening night with the orchestra beneath you, and feeling completely at peace with what you have prepared. The adrenaline the runs within you is addicting and absolutely magical.
Another special aspect to the program was getting to know my scholarship doner. Pamela Jones, among other doners, is one of the most kind, giving, and supportive people I have ever met. It was so wonderful seeing her smiling face in the audience each night. The doners are the reason why most of the singers can even participate in the program and I know I, among other recipients, were extremely grateful for their monetary and emotional support!
The most inspirational experience of all was working with fellow colleagues and watching their growth. You can truly learn the most when observing others. It was wonderful to hear and watch so much incredible talent, and it acted as a very important platform for networking, building repertoire, and hearing about other people's experiences in the field.
The last major part of the program was the scenes program. I was cast as Carmen in "The Card Trio," and I also participated in the chorus in scenes from L'elisir d'amore and Sunday in the Park with George. The scenes program was a wonderful opportunity to workshop new and contrasting repertoire outside of the season.
Overall, OIO taught me tremendous lessons about myself as a performer, artist, individual, colleague, musician, and student of this craft. I learned that perfection is not always attainable, but having a recovery process is vital for moving forward. I learned that anything can happen, good or bad, and that focus, flexibility, curiosity, and hard-work is the only way to achieve success. I strongly recommend OIO to any young singer trying to gain performance experience. OIO is a place to make mistakes, find success within the skills you have this moment, and grow in ways you never dreamed possible.