Written and photos by Rosa Gude
The Simpson Music Department has a lot to offer its students, from two fully-staged productions per year, to recital and performance opportunities. As important as these are, it’s always a good idea for young performers
Something I’ve learned since being at Simpson is that taking chances is worth it. There’s no doubt performing is scary, but not taking the risk could leave you with no chance at all of achievement. Without taking a risk, I would have never studied opera in Italy this past summer.
Last January, Benjamin Wayne Smith, a stage director from the University of Memphis and the Italian summer program, Accademia Vocale Lorenzo Malfatti, was invited by Simpson College Opera Director Bernard McDonald to come and teach us how to become better actors. While there, Smith talked to us about the program in Lucca, Italy.
This was right around the period of my sophomore year I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after Simpson. I decided to take on Smith’s audition opportunity, thinking I might as well give it a shot.
I forgot about it for a while until I received a confirmation email saying I was accepted into the program. Something I originally intended to be just for fun became a reality.
Italy is pure bliss. The wine, food and people are perfect. Even better, I was living in Tuscany, the perfect first impression of Italy. When not studying, I traveled to Florence, Pisa, Sienna and enjoying all Tuscany had to offer.
Lucca had so many opportunities for performance since it’s the birthplace of famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. His music still influences their festivals and programs like the one I attended. While in the city, we toured his famous childhood home and performed for the Puccini Society, a group of individuals that work to preserve Lucca’s history.
My classmates and I spent six hours in class per day. We had two hours of Italian language, and filled the rest with coaching and lessons from some of the United States’ most prestigious teachers.
I was fortunate to study with a professor from Sam Houston State University, as well as coach with Dean Williamson, director of the Nashville Symphony. My voice teacher and coaches at the school taught me how to shape my voice and my characters into ones I can take with me as I grow in opera.
Each week, we prepared an opera aria or scene to perform. Our venues were gorgeous; the botanical gardens, Puccini’s summer home in Torre di lago and Piazza di Puccini in the heart of Lucca.
I brought back so much from the program, including maturation in my voice and acting skills I didn’t have before. Simply going to another place by yourself can instill a certain confidence that adds to one’s character onstage. It helped me grow as a performer, and especially as a person.
I have no doubt my experiences in Lucca will help me find other opportunities like it. I think programs like Accademia Vocale Lorenzo Malfatti which incorporate cultural, language, and musical concepts are so beneficial to singers.