- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

Nicole Vadala, a teen-ager from College Park, began performing in the Washington Opera's children's program at age 8. She signed on for her first private voice lessons at 10.
But her opera education truly began last year, when she entered the Washington Opera's intensive summer program, designed to separate the sopranos from the karaoke singers.
The Opera Institute for Young Singers, run by the Washington Opera in cooperation with Catholic University of America, is an operatic boot camp.
"They want you to see what it would be like in the real professional world," Nicole, 16, says.
Twenty-five teen-agers, mostly from the Washington area, are spending three weeks this summer studying the sumptuous world of opera.
The institute, held at the university, runs through Friday. Next Saturday, the students will present a concert of art songs at 1 p.m. in the Ward Recital Hall on campus.
Debra Eileen Evans, education and community programs director with the Washington Opera, says that the university, in Northeast Washington, provides more than just ample performance space.
"This age group is contemplating college. We wanted to put them in that setting," she says of the students, who earn one college credit by attending the institute.
Now in its third year, the institute gives students a realistic glimpse of the ethereal world of opera. This isn't a vanity course. The students work hard all day to train their raw talent and learn whether this life truly is for them.
Miss Evans says the institute seeks students with capable voices, a facility with foreign languages and a seriousness about the craft.
Mistakes are expected, but so also is the unpredictable nature of the adolescent state of mind.
"They have a lot of energy. Then, they're really tired," she says, smiling.
The students, from ages 14 to 18, were selected after a rigorous screening process that included videotaped auditions and letters of recommendation from their music instructors.
Teaching includes individualized vocal coaching, Italian diction sessions and separate classes for movement and drama.
"If you know how to move onstage, it'll help your singing," Miss Evans says. "We can't change a lot of major technical things. That's not our aim."
The regimen is rigorous. Little is sugarcoated. "We're trying to help them understand this is a business," she says.
The competition, as instructor Patricia Wulf reminds students during one master class, is fierce. She has sung with the Washington Opera and other groups.
That said, the benefits for young students can last for decades, particularly those who learn to sight-read through the institute.
"If you have really good technique, your career can last into the 60s," Miss Evans says.
For Nicole, the pressure-packed institute feeds her enthusiasm.
"I wasn't nervous at all," she says. "I was curious as to how I'd stack up with people my age at my level."
The same could not be said of a few of her fellow students. One singer appeared close to tears after singing in her master class, Nicole recalls.
This year's crop of students seems more focused on making opera a part of their future, she says.
"A lot of people last year were more interested in musical theater," she says.
A glimpse at some of the practice sessions confirms her sentiments.
Watching the predominantly female group, wearing pigtails, flip-flops and the casual mien of the young, is an education in opera's next wave of performers. The students run through vocal lessons, the beautiful sounds pouring forth seeming to come from other vessels, not these slender, unfinished adults. They sing with slack postures and cautious glances. They occasionally giggle when directed to stretch out their arms in mock dramatic surprise.
But their voices sound surprisingly polished, their potential seemingly large.
Miss Wulf, who works at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., says the classes help bring the students' high expectations closer to the earth.
"They say, 'I want to be a star,'" she says. "They don't know what it takes."
Their greatest strength, collectively, isn't their youthful energy or malleable talents, she says.
"It's their naivete of what's really out there. It's so valuable to tap into that," she says. "It's so wonderful, but it's so fragile. You have to nurture it."

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