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The Kennedy Center

Opera Institute

Program Description

The Program

When students arrive for the first day of Opera Institute at American University, they audition for the entire faculty. Each student then is assigned an art song and opera scene to be studied, memorized, and performed during the course of the three weeks. Daily coaching sessions, individual voice or piano lessons, and various classes help the students prepare these pieces and grow as performers. A taste of "real life" as an opera singer is savored in master classes and seminars with professionals in the business. Past presenters include Harolyn Blackwell, Richard Stilwell, Ron Raines, Elizabeth Bishop, and Denyce Graves, and topics covered include vocal health, breath support, and audition preparation.

The Performances

Performance opportunities are major elements of this program and critical to the learning process. Students receive priceless advice on how to become confident, communicative performers. The Opera Institute provides three performance opportunities: the Italian Art Song recital at the end of the second week; the Opera Scenes recital at the end of the program; and, for selected students, a performance on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.

At the 2017 Institute, singers will be able to compete in the Schmidt Youth Vocal Competition held at American University on Sunday, June 18. Students have the opportunity to perform, receive feedback, and win cash prizes. Past adjudicators and clinicians include Sherrill Milnes, Cynthia Lawrence, and Nicholas Muni. The Schmidt Youth Vocal Competition is sponsored by the William E. Schmidt Foundation; for more information, please visit

A Typical Day

8:55 AM
Morning Class: Acting, Italian Diction, or Ear Training
Master Class with Guest Artist
1:00 PM
Afternoon Class: Opera History or Chorus
Individual vocal coaching, private lessons, rehearsal, practice time
Announcements, adjournment
Practice and Homework Time
Group Activity
Lights Out

The Classes

Over all, students can expect a curriculum and assignments that are creative and challenging, including readings, research papers, and daily homework assignments.

Opera History

Students explore historical periods of opera and various composers from each era, beginning with Baroque Opera and continuing through present-day examples. They explore different genres of opera, learn opera terminology and performance tradition, and participate in an in-depth study of style and language through library research on selected arias and operas. Class preparation culminates in attendance at a performance of a professional opera production.

Acting Class

This exciting and fast-paced class quickly reviews the technical fundamentals of being on stage, which students add to their knowledge base and apply to their experience as singing actors in an opera, operetta, or musical theater. For example, this class gives students both the theory and practice of exploring techniques used to depict emotions in a standard opera scene.

Italian Diction

This class is designed to help students understand basic Italian pronunciation; learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) rules; distinguish between clear and unclear Italian diction, as demonstrated by current performing artists; and prepare for their Italian Art Song Recital.

Ear Training and Sight Singing

Using an innovative approach, students will study concepts in music theory (such as key signatures, intervals, etc.) tailored to their level. They will also learn the emotional responses those concepts elicit–sight singing and ear training become easier while interpretations become more vital and artistic.

Voice Lesson

A major goal of the Opera Institute is to encourage proper vocal health and management. Each student receives three lessons throughout the course of the Institute. These lessons focus on continuation of vocal development: breath management, intonation, and musicianship, based upon the need of each student. Students are given repertoire appropriate to their level of singing, based upon faculty recommendation. They work on their pieces pedagogically in their lessons.

Other classes and workshops include Movement, Chorus, Vocal Health, Resumé-Writing, and more.

Opera Institute Class

"I expected a simple program that would mildly prepare me for life in music college. It was more important than I could ever have imagined. I feel vastly improved by this program."

–Opera Institute Alum

Opera Institute Class

"The intense, conservatory style of teaching and emphasis on performance helped me eliminate distractions and excel in performances and develop new, solid habits for practice and study."

–Opera Institute Alum