Sounds of beautiful, controlled operatic voices echo through the CSUN Music Department several hours daily.
About 30 classically trained singers of the OperaWorks program attempt to perfect their voices in preparation for an annual performance.
Jessica Slatknff, who is in her first year of the program, said she noticed a difference in her voice after two weeks of being in the program.
“This program works,” Slatknff said. “By taking these classes I feel better about what I do and I get unexpected positive results.”
OperaWorks, which started at CSUN in 1989, is a highly physical and intense curriculum designed to address the students’ artistic, dramatic, emotional, spiritual and musical excellence.
“We train the artist and the person because singers are their own instrument, how they are feeling affects their instrument,” said Ann Baltz, program coordinator and artistic director of the program.
Students take yoga class everyday to help understand their bodies and strengthens their minds, she said.
“Yoga is something they can do in their dressing room or before a performance that helps them focus?it’s a life long habit they will hopefully pick up,” Baltz said.
Other courses offered include, private coaching, operatic improvisation, stage performance and Alexander technique, visualization, movement, conducting and Italian language classes.
To prepare for the concluding performance project, singers create and vote characters.
Baltz and Eli Villanueva, who has directed several operas, develop a story line to fit each student and assign a character a song from a traditional opera piece. The performance is accompanied by a pianist.
“Each performance is different and will change because it’s all improvised, but there is a basic storyline,” said Evelyn Jones Yu, program administrator and former OperaWorks singer.
The singers create their own costumes. The set designs are built by students and staff members.
“Audiences love this because the people who know opera appreciate it at a different level and people who aren’t familiar with opera probably didn’t know it could be fun,” Baltz said.
The nationally acclaimed performance training program will hold a three-act improvisational opera to celebrate 20 years of singing July 22 at 7:30 p.m. and July 23 at 3 p.m. in CSUN’s Recital Hall.
Slatknff will be playing an old pirate-mother in Act 3.
She said she is nervous about the upcoming performance.
“Being classically trained, I’m not accustomed to improvisation, but it’s really fun and the only thing I’m worried about for the performance is trying not to laugh,” Slatknff said.
OperaWorks holds a nationwide audition every year located in about eight cities.
“We look for people who have the hunger to do this,” Baltz said. “It’s not enough for them to be able to sing, they need to have a sense of creativity and imagination within them and we can lead them to realize what they are good at and expand on what they are good at and help them improve.”
OperaWorks a two-week program in June, a voice teacher program that trains voice teachers and a four-week program in July.
“This is a non judgmental environment where students feel free to experiment without the fear of being judged,” Baltz said.