A local summer program helps any student ages 8 to 18 to learn one of the most intimidating forms of art: opera.
| 6:00 a.m. June 3, 2015
Arts + Culture
Katherine Herbert was 8 when she first stepped inside the Sarasota Opera House. She was nervous. She was shy. But she loved music and she loved to sing.
She was there for the opera’s Youth Opera Summer Camp after her father urged her to attend to find friends
during the summer months. What she didn’t expect to find was a new passion.
“I didn’t really understand opera, but I had been taking voice lessons, so, like an arrogant 8-year-old, I thought I could sing,” says Katherine, now 14 and entering ninth grade at Booker High School.
But when it came to singing opera, she had a lot to learn. Which is exactly what she did. At the end of three weeks, Katherine left knowing more about how to control her voice, how to sing in other languages and even how to produce an opera.
She liked the experience so much, Katherine encourage her classmate and friend from ballet, Samantha Lane, to attend the camp with her the following year.
Katherine and Samantha both say the camp has helped them develop more confidence.
“If I could come here instead of school, I would do it,” says Samantha, 14, who is also entering ninth grade at Booker. “We’ve had so many conversations about starting an opera academy and just to send us here to work and to teach us.”
The Youth Opera Program has inspired Sarasota’s musically inclined youth since 1984. Centered around a full-scale professional production during the opera’s main stage season each fall, the Sarasota Youth Opera takes all interested students (no auditions necessary) and teaches them the basics of opera singing, acting, production and history.
Led by Youth Opera music director Jesse Martins and manager of educational activities Ben Plocher (affectionately known to the opera kids as “Maestro Jesse” and “Mr. Ben”), the two will help lead a production of Hans Krása’s “Brundibár” and welcome a new batch of students into the world of opera.
“If you’re new, you get adopted into this family very easily,” says Katherine. “You might be nervous the second you walk in, but after that, it’s all good.”
The three-week camp in June is a crash course in opera. It features 70 to 80 students ranging in age from 8 to 18.
Five days a week, students learn the foundations of operatic singing, culture, production, history and performance from Sarasota Opera staff. Students ages 8 to 10 have shorter -length classes limited to mornings; older students are at the opera house all day.
This year, from June 8 through June 26, the opera camp class will spend approximately 90 hours learning in camp. Though it’s offseason, staff members such as Martins, Martha Collins, Francesca Macbeth and Greg Trupiano teach them the basics of music, acting, history, story and producing their own opera.
Three weeks of camp is just the start. If the opera camp staff does its job, it will spark a lifelong appreciation of opera.
“They’re sponges at that age, and the possibilities are endless,” says Plocher. “They could go a million different directions. Through the program, our end goal is not that we’re going to turn out a whole class of opera singers or the next stars of opera. Our goal is turning out really good leaders and young people who feel confident in what they’re doing and who they are as people.”
The camp provides a supportive yet competitive environment in which students are pushed and challenged to improve.
“Opera kids are intelligent and really smart having to learn about different cultures, music and languages,” says Samantha. “But more than that, you learn and gain knowledge and become more aware of other people. It’s not just about you in the spotlight.”
For veteran campers Katherine and Samantha, the best part of camp is seeing new students fall in love with opera the same way they did.
“The new and young kids hit that level during their time being here, and they just realize that they love opera,” says Katherine.
Ben Plocher: “Gloriana” by Benjamin Britten at Opera Theatre of St. Louis
Katherine Herbert: “Die Zauberflöte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at Sarasota Opera
Samantha Lane: “Madama Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini at Sarasota Opera
Katherine Herbert: Queen of the Night in “Die Zauberflöte” and Il Commendatore from “Don Giovanni.” “I was in love with (Queen of the Night) when I saw the performance, and I wanted to be her,” says Herbert. “That’s my hands-down dream role ever since I was little. The most unachievable role that I could ever have but I want to do is Il Commendatore in ‘Don Giovanni.’ He gets to sing that killer aria in the end, and then he drags Don Giovanni into hell and I’m like, “Yes!” It’s one of my favorite scenes in all of opera.”
Samantha Lane: Carmen in “Carmen” by Georges Bizet. “The first opera I was in here was ‘Carmen’ when I was in sixth grade. I was so nervous, and I played a little boy. I really wanted to be Carmen because she had this really nice Spanish song with a cool beat to it.”
Favorite Part of Camp
Katherine Herbert: “We did the tour of the opera house, and that is the coolest thing ever. We got to ride the pit down, and we went in the opera house where all the lights are and go in through the wig and makeup room….We got to climb down this ladder and see parts of the opera house I didn’t even know existed.”
Samantha Lane: “Learning the music with maestro because you learn how to sing in Italian, French and sometimes German, and you put acting to it, and you create a character for yourself.”