Written by Lisa Nguyen Published in
Third-year Rachel Mink woke up on Thursday, February 19 knowing the day would be special. Instead of her usual class schedule, Rachel was going to sing for opera superstar Renée Fleming! Ms. Fleming paid an electrifying visit to the Music Department on the eve of her sold-out recital at Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater. Anticipation built as the hour approached. “It was a mix of adrenaline and excitement and a whole lot of terrified feelings,” said Mink. “It was one of those things that just doesn’t feel real, because I am an aspiring opera singer. This is really what I want to do with my life, and Renée Fleming is probably the most successful opera singer, at least in this generation, if not more. And I was going to be singing for her right there in the front row!” The excited audience of faculty, students and community members watched as Ms. Fleming worked with Rachel and fellow third-years Patrick Burns and Anne-Marie Lloyd. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not just for Rachel but everyone in Old Cabell Hall.
The masterclass focused on tone production and breathing. Ms. Fleming had the entire audience doing vocal exercises and shared trade secrets like breathing through a straw to increase volume and intensity. After the masterclass, Music Department Chair Richard Will conducted an interview with questions written by his “Opera on Stage” class, covering everything from maintaining vocal health, to dealing with stage directors, to performing at the Super Bowl in 2014. Ms. Fleming spoke eloquently on the need for opera to reach broader audiences and encouraged aspiring students to lead the way in exploring new directions. She cautioned singers to pace their development carefully in a world increasingly focused on young voices. She sprinkled her answers with numerous anecdotes from her career in opera and beyond—many of them hilarious. At the end, the audience stood in a thundering ovation, genuinely inspired by this visit from one of the world’s foremost musical and stage artists and ambassadors for the arts.