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BHS students gain experience with opera

Bemidji High School students Libby Sorenson, Isaac Flaa and Hannah Allen are focusing on the libretto for "Madama Butterfly" by Puccini with their vocal teacher Julia Lamon during a recent rehearsal. The teens will be singing with the opera chorus, a rare opportunity for young adults still deciding on a future in music. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -Three Bemidji High School students will have the opportunity of a lifetime when they appear on stage Thursday for the opening night of the Loon Opera Company production of "Madama Butterfly" by Puccini.

It is turning out to be a win-win for a vocal teacher and her students, who will be singing in the opera chorus. Julia Lamon, assistant director of the award winning Vocalmotive at the high school, is a graduate of Concordia College in Morehead with a degree in Vocal Performance.

"I have a music studio at my home and give private voice lessons," said Lamon. "My voice students Hannah Lewis, Libby Sorrenson and Isaac Flaa are strong singers and I felt it would be a good experience for them."

Lamon, who is in the opera chorus with her husband Michael, both music graduates of Concordia, knew that the musical director was looking for more sopranos. She said she suspected that her students would appreciate this opportunity.

While the chorus was not looking for tenors, Lamon asked that Isaac be allowed to sing with Hannah and Libby because he has a beautiful voice with a pure tone.

Lamon said she picked these students because it's a lot of work to be in an opera and she believed these students were up to the task.

"It's not just learning the music, it's singing in another language, understanding the translation of that language, pronouncing it correctly and memorizing the score," Lamon said. "It's a totally different kind of singing, even from classical, it's more work for the voice. Libby and Hannah are very solid singers and I knew they could carry their part very well. And they have a very strong ear so I knew they would be good for this production because they can hear the parts well and conduct themselves as professionals and as young adults in the chorus."

Hannah, who will be a junior this coming school year, said it is an honor to work with professionals.

"I was really excited because it is kind of like my dream come true because I love opera and classical music is my favorite," she said.

Libby, who just finished her freshman year of high school, said she was "a little surprised because I have not studied opera yet but I am having a lot of fun learning and working with the professionals."

Isaac will be co-captain of Show Choir next school year. He said the experience is very different as there is so much more to put together compared to show choir.

"First of all, I am singing in a different language so I have to figure out (in English) what I am singing in another language (Italian)," Isaac said. "I love the experience because this is the first time I've ever been in an opera and I love listening to them. 'Phantom of the Opera' is my favorite musical."

A laughing Hannah said that she loves it too but Libby said that she is the only one who has not seen Phantom yet.

"These kids have been so enthusiastic about being here," said Matthew Goinz, musical director of this production. "They learn so quickly and so thoroughly that I really haven't had to do much with them. It's been really a treat having them around. I really appreciate their willingness to be in the chorus just for the experience."

Two of the professionals singing in the opera agreed with Goinz's assessment of the teens' ability and obvious interest, and said most people don't have the chance to be part of an opera chorus until they get to college or even graduate school.

"With these high schoolers, the sheer interest is incredible," said tenor Phong Nguyen, who plays Goro, a character role in the production. "They spend time just looking at the score and following the opera all the way through, I am in awe. These kids inspire me to be a better performer. One rarely sees high schoolers in an opera production and it is pleasant to see and hear them. I wish I had this opportunity as a kid."

Dan Scofield, a lyric baritone whose next production will be with the Knoxville Opera in "Die Fledermaus," said the students appear excited to be at rehearsals.

"I was 19-years-old when I appeared in an opera chorus for the first time; H.M.S. Pinafore at Georgia Southern University," Scofield said. "I was an engineering major at that time but, after that chorus, I changed my major to vocal performance and have been singing professionally since 2009."

Lamon said the three students are considering going into music as part of their career.

"It's a great resume builder for them especially as they will be looking into college," Lamon said. "Being in an opera chorus will be a great thing for them to put on their college applications and resumes. What is unique in this area is that Abe (Hunter) has done such a good job of putting together the Loon Opera Company... For these three students, it's an opportunity to be in an opera chorus before they have even started their studies for a career.

"Just the opportunity to hear the professionals from Georgia, Kentucky, New York and Texas and singing with them is incredible. We don't have singers quite on that level here in Bemidji."

Hannah, Isaac and Libby said the experience won't be one soon forgotten.