When Yale Opera Director Gerald Martin Moore began his work at the School of Music six months into the pandemic, he faced as tough a predicament as a new faculty member could. “We knew we couldn’t sing together,” he said. That, on its face, posed a question: What then, could vocalists do?
During the fall semester, Yale Opera singers worked on technique, role study, and what else they could on their own and with a teacher—safely and at a distance. Each performed an aria of their choice with a pianist in Morse Recital Hall this past fall, and the school captured and broadcast those performances online, giving the singers something to add to their websites and social-media channels and to submit to competitions and auditions. This month, Yale Opera will present a recorded broadcast in which masked singers perform duets onstage in Morse, a careful step forward. For these performances and the aria program in the fall, students were coached not just by the school’s faculty but by some of the most admired and respected artists and experts of the day—artists with whom Moore has enjoyed longtime professional relationships.
Tenor Jordan Costa ’22MMA sang “Sì,ritrovarla io giuro” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola as part of the Fall Aria Showcase. He worked on the aria with tenor Lawrence Brownlee. “It felt like I was sort of in his living room and we were having a one-on-one talk,” Costa said of working with “arguably, the best in the world.”
Sopranos Magdalena Kuźma ’22MM and Nicole Leung ’21MM worked on the role of Sophie, from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, with soprano Erin Morley, who is “very famous for singing the role,” Kuźma said, calling the coaching she received from Morley an “incredible experience.”
Kuźma also worked on the Strauss with Dr. Howard Watkins, a pianist and an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera who’s a Presidential Visiting Fellow at Yale working with the Yale Opera this semester. “I’m so confident now,” Kuźma said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to learn it.”
In working with Kuźma and Leung, Morley said she was “drawing from my experience having (performed the role) now several times and with several conductors.”
In addition to the coaching they've received, students in the Yale Opera program have participated in seminars with the likes of soprano Renée Fleming, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, and baritone Will Liverman, and have gathered to hear over Zoom from such guest speakers as director and choreographer Nicola Bowie, musicologist Susan Youens, marketing professional Alexandra Day, collaborative pianist J.J. Penna, writer and radio host William Berger, and other “heavy hitters in the industry” who explored a “diverse range of topics,” Costa said.
Fleming, Costa said, “was being very real with us” about the challenges students might face in their careers, and about the ways in which the field has changed. “She didn’t stand on ceremony,” he said.
Tenor Ryan Capozzo ’21MMA said Fleming encouraged Yale Opera singers to “look inward to see what your personality and lived experiences have to offer the operatic community.”
“There’s nothing like hearing it from the diva,” Moore said.
Kuźma described Moore’s approach to education as “smart,” saying, “This is the first time that I’ve been in a program that encompasses truly every aspect of music.”
Like Moore, mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala joined the School of Music faculty in fall 2020. While she’d never met or worked with Moore prior to arriving at Yale, Zabala said “our approach, our philosophy, and our strengths are so complementary.”
Given the circumstances, Zabala said, she and Moore “have had to be pretty sober about what the limitations have been,” asking, “What can we do with the integrity with which we would approach everything without the pandemic?” Looking at what has been achieved, Zabala believes “we have something to show for this year that we can be very proud of.”
“I want to bring everything I have to the program,” Moore said. Even before he arrived at Yale, Moore had planned to introduce students to his contacts in the industry. “It was on my agenda from day one,” he said, “even before COVID came calling.”
Yale Opera will broadcast its Spring Opera Showcase on April 16, at 7:30 p.m., at music.yale.edu/live. The program features recorded performances of music by Bizet, Donizetti, Dvořák, Handel, Massenet, Mozart, Rossini, and R. Strauss, with piano accompaniment.