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Opera Partnership Gives Students Something to Sing About

By Adrienne Frank

Opera panel at Katzen Arts Center.

From left: Washington National Opera's Christina Scheppelmann, Elizabeth Bishop, and Brandy Lynn Hawkins. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

A beautiful voice isn’t the only thing aspiring opera singers need to succeed.

“It’s important to hone your craft, but you shouldn’t lock yourself in the music building,” said musician in residence Linda Allison, who leads American University’s opera workshop. “You need to learn about history, poetry, and the ways of the world. A solid liberal arts underpinning is essential, because you have to have something to sing about. Opera is about the world.”

On Nov. 16, Washington National Opera’s director of artistic operations Christina Scheppelmann, Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Brandy Hawkins, and mezzo soprano Elizabeth Bishop shared other secrets to success with student singers from across the District. Among their career tips:

  • Don’t worry about securing management until you have something to manage.
  • Don’t exaggerate your experience on your résumé—no one expects a 22- or 23-year-old to be a seasoned professional.
  • Dress professionally for auditions.
  • Enlist a trusted sounding board and listen to their advice.
  • Be sure your voice is together before you start auditioning.


The event, held at the Katzen Arts Center, was part of a new AU partnership with the Washington National Opera. In June, 34 talented teens came to campus for three weeks of trills and vibrato, Italian arias and breath practice, music theory, and one-on-one coaching as part of the Washington National Opera Summer Institute at AU.

Allison, a mezzo soprano who has performed at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall, was among several AU faculty and music majors who worked with the high school students. She looks forward to future collaborations with the prestigious Washington company, including master classes for AU singers.

“Ultimately, I’d love to have them work with our students on makeup, stage direction, and technical aspects over at the Greenberg,” she explains.

“The partnership has great potential. They have so much to share, and our students are eager to learn.”

On Friday, Nov. 20, Allison’s students will showcase their sparkling voices during an opera open house, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. in the Katzen’s studio theatre. The students, most of them voice majors, will perform arias and ensemble pieces and talk about the process.