Seattle Opera Young Artists Program builds stars for the future

When exhaustion compelled Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager to withdraw from the Feb. 28-March 13 Seattle Opera production of Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos" only nine days before opening night, it could have been a disaster for the company. Fortunately the situation was resolved by Kimberly Barber, who stepped into the role. Barber was already a member of the silver cast and very well rehearsed in the part.

Taking Barber's place is Caroline Kahl, a current member of Seattle Opera's Young Artist Program. The program, now in its sixth season, is designed to help talented singers pursue their careers in the opera world under the expert guidance of Perry Lorenzo.

As Seattle Opera's education director, Lorenzo produces more than 350 education events each season. He has become one of the most popular and sought-after speakers on opera in the country and lectures frequently in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as at the Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, Germany. His lecture series "Exploring the Ring with Perry Lorenzo" has been issued as a four-CD set. Lorenzo also teaches at Seattle University in the honors program of Matteo Ricci College. He has directed the Young Artists Program since its inception in 1998.

Currently Seattle Opera's Young Artists are 12 singers chosen from hundreds of national applicants. They come to Seattle for six months to participate in an intense professional program offering top-rate vocal coaching; instruction in diction, foreign language, acting, movement, dance, stage combat, makeup and the opera industry; and master classes with world-renowned opera professionals such as Cheri Green-wald, Sally Wolf, Vladimir Chernov and Peter Kazaras.

The singers also participate in several Seattle Opera programs, such as Experience Opera, which is designed to engage high-school students in a lively opera curriculum, and Opera Goes to School, which immerses young children in the process of creating an opera. Last season, these two programs brought opera to more than 13,000 students.

Toward the end of the season, the Young Artists perform a full-length opera. This year's selection is Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," opening April 2 at the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue.

The Metropolitan, La Scala and New York City Opera, along with Seattle Opera, are just a few of the institutions where former Seattle Opera Artists have performed after completing their training. Young Artists alumni have remarked that their training has made them more viable candidates as they embark upon the next stage of their career.

For example, Terri Richter (1998 season) sang the role of Oscar in Seattle Opera's 2002 production of Verdi's "Masked Ball" and sang the roles of Second Flower Maiden and First Esquire in the 2003 production of Wagner's "Parsifal." Lawrence Brownlee (2000 and 2001-02) sang leading roles in two Teatro alla Scala productions and made his Seattle Opera debut in January 2003 as Ernes-to in Donizetti's "Don Pasquale." Sebastian Cantana (2002-03) has multiple engagements at the Metro-politan this season. Julianne Gearhart (2002-03) performed very successfully with Seattle Opera this season as Helen Niles in Marvin David Levey's "Mourning Be-comes Electra" and as Zerbi-netta in the current pro-duction of Richard Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos."

We are all very proud of Carolyn Kahl making her mainstage debut at Seattle Opera. A native of Saginaw, Mich., Kahl sang Papagena and the Third Lady in the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program's "The Magic Flute" last season. She holds a bache-lor of music degree from the Univer-sity of Michigan and a master's from the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music. She also has sung with the Young Artists program at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Kahl made her European debut as Dora-bellin in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" with Opera Theater of Lucca in Italy.

Another Young Artist favorite is Keith Harris, who sang the role of Dandini in the Young Artists 2002 production of Rossini's "Cinderella." He makes his Seattle Opera main-stage debut in May as Sid in Puccini's "Fanciulla del West."

The Young Artist Program also sponsors the Experience Opera Pro-gram, through which Seattle Opera works with teachers to integrate the study of opera into the humanities classrooms of middle- and high-school students. Schools throughout Washington state participate, studying Seattle Opera's mainstage shows though classroom visits, school recitals by Young Artists singers and dress-rehearsal performances. Teachers use study guides designed by Seattle Opera staff.

Such outreach events are custom-designed to the needs of each commu-nity. Teachers receive training workshops on each opera, then share what they learn with other teachers.

In 2002-03, the program reached students from 40 schools in Chelan, Grays Harbor, King, Kitsap, Oka-nogan, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima counties. There were 128 events that served 9,000 students and 50 teachers - quite a feat.

If you did not see Caroline Kahl in "Ariadne auf Naxos," you can still see and hear her - and Keith Harris, plus 10 other talented young singers in the Young Artist Program - in "Così fan tutte." This fun confection by Mozart (that probably inspired many a Gilbert & Sullivan opera) tells the story of two pairs of lovers whose gentlemen tell their ladies they are going to join the army, then don disguises to test the ladies' fidelity - and end up changing partners.

If you have not seen an opera before, this is ideal for the whole family. "Cosi fan tutte" - which means "They're [women] like that!" - runs six performances on April 2, 3, 9 and 10. Ticket prices are $28 for adults, $15 for students (telephone 389-7676). You will experience a thoroughly enjoyable evening and support the Young Artists Program, which nurtures opera stars of the future and, through their school offshoot program, provides the audience to appreciate them.

Linda Greenwald, a.k.a. Linda of London, is a longtime resident of Queen Anne and a consultant on all things British.

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