Many people hear “opera” and visualize an older woman wearing bizarre viking horns and belting out shrill, glass-shattering notes in Italian. However, according to the growing number of Marlborough girls who sing and appreciate opera, this portrayal is a common misconception.
This year, opera has carved out a bigger presence at Marlborough. Opera Club, the first of its kind, was created by Lucia ‘16 and currently has at least 25 members who meet every other Wednesday to appreciate the art form. In addition to the club, which is open to anyone interested in discovering more about opera, some Marlborough girls take private lessons in opera, others perform outside of school, and eight took part in Marlborough’s Vocalist-in-Residence program under the instruction of opera star Beth Clayton.
According to Lucia, opera is more complex and multifaceted than many people think.
“[Before I learned about opera], I thought it was cool, but kind of hokey and silly, like the commercials and popular media made it seem. And then, when I started listening to it I realized that it’s actually really beautiful,” Lucia said.
Lucia said she created the club this year to share her passion with the community. So far, the club’s enthusiasts have watched videos of famous singers’ performances and participated in fun opera-inspired games and activities such as “Guess that Soprano,” “Crown the Queen of the Night,”—inspired by Mozart’s renowned opera, “The Magic Flute”—and the “Opera Awards,” a mock awards ceremony at which members voted for their favorite singers. Opera Club also held a lunchtime benefit concert to support Japan relief efforts on May 5.
A soprano, Lucia said she is inspired by Korean soprano Sumi Jo, legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and classical opera composers Mozart and Verdi. This talented seventh grader participates in 7/8 Sing, Marlborough’s 7th and 8th Grade extracurricular choir group, participated in choir as a student at UCLA Lab School and has performed a solo at the Hollywood Bowl in 2009 as a member of the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir. At age eight, Lucia became interested in opera after listening to some old CD’s out of pure curiosity.
“I started researching more about opera and the singers who I really liked on the CD, and I found out about a bunch of different operas and I went to see operas, and it kind of just built itself from there,” she said.
But Lucia is actually one of several Marlborough students who sing opera. Amanda’11, a member of Opera Club and Chamber Choir, improves upon her talents in weekly vocal lessons. Amanda said she was exposed to the opera world at age seven by her grandfather, who took her to see opera performances.
“It’s more relatable than other types of music because the stories themselves are based on raw human emotions,” Amanda said.
Shannon ’13 began her training in opera when she was eleven and takes private lessons with Juliana Gondek, Professor of Voice and Chair of the Vocal Studies Department at UCLA.
“Opera is appealing to me because so many people think it’s just screaming and singing in foreign languages that no one can understand, but it is truly filled with the most emotion,” Shannon said.
Chamber Choir member Mackenzie ’11 began taking vocal lessons at the Colburn School seven years ago and studies with an instructor who specializes in opera, jazz and musical theatre. Mackenzie said her love for opera began when she was a child.
“I can remember singing Habenera [an aria from Carmen] before I even knew what Carmen was about. I think I must have somehow inherited my love of opera from my grandmothers on both sides,” she said.
Mackenzie, Amanda, Shannon, April ’13, and Niki ’13 not only sing opera outside of school, but were also under the instruction of opera singer Beth Clayton through Marlborough’s Vocalist-in- Residence program, along with three other students who typically sing in other genres. April, a Chamber Choir member, participates in Opera California Youth Choir and was featured on KTLA’s Young Icons program for her accomplishments in singing. Niki began training classically with a vocal coach at the Colburn School one year ago and said that opera’s focus on technical precision and detail allows singers to improve their technique in all genres.
“It’s the toughest kind of singing to do, honestly. There’s so much more focus on your diction—especially if you’re singing in a different language—and vocal technique,” she said.
According to Mackenzie, opera can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of vocal ability; Opera Club’s members range from dedicated student opera singers to girls who simply enjoy the music. Mackenzie said she is thrilled about opera’s recent spike in popularity.
“It’s so exciting! I’m so glad because so many people have a preconceived notion of opera, based on the stereotype of like a corseted, large woman bellowing ear-piercing notes in unintelligible languages,” Mackenzie said. “Opera is so much more than that!”