With a transition to online programming, March 4 marked the first virtual NEXT College Night, a program for college students through Chicago’s Lyric Opera that seeks to immerse undergraduate and graduate students in opera with discounted tickets and special events. The inaugural virtual night welcomed Katherine DeYoung and Leroy Davis, two members of the Ryan Opera Center — a training program for young opera artists — to speak about their college and career paths.
NEXT originated as a way to engage with college students. The program offers $20 tickets at select performances — often during the week — as well as opportunities to learn more about opera and connect with other students passionate about the arts. NEXT College Nights are open to all students, regardless of academic program.
Brittany Gonzalez, the director of group sales, adopted the role of NEXT program coordinator in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Gonzalez said they’re hoping to let students know there are still ways to be involved at the Lyric Opera by reorganizing this program to operate virtually.
Past events have showcased different speakers to highlight ongoing shows at the Lyric.
“In the past, the in-person events would feature, for example, the technical director,” Gonzalez added. “It used to be a bit more specific to the actual show and, because obviously that’s not the case anymore, we’re pivoting to what we think is still going to be interesting, which is obviously young artists in their career and how they got there.”
The Zoom event showcased mezzo soprano DeYoung and baritone Davis, first-year members of the Ryan Opera Center. The Ryan Opera Center was founded in 1974 and provides a residency for artists that includes language, acting and voice lessons as well as an opportunity to perform in Lyric Opera’s mainstage shows. For those interested in a career in opera performance, the Ryan Opera Center is an opportunity to gain extensive training, and this event allowed students to learn more about the program.
Throughout the night, both DeYoung and Davis shared their journeys to the Ryan Opera Center. For DeYoung, that included undergraduate studies at Michigan State University and a master’s degree in voice performance after starting voice lessons in high school. Davis has experience singing with the Florentine Opera and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Both echoed the importance of balance that came along with the transition from high school to collegiate performance.
Both performers said they moved to Chicago for this program. On a typical day, they have language classes, vocal coaching and time to prepare for recorded performances. To account for the pandemic, the residency has incorporated a number of virtual and in-person events with notable safety protocols.
While some classes are online, artists are given their own dressing rooms with a piano for coaching that happens via Zoom. For recordings and virtual concerts, there are barriers and safety protocols implemented that have changed the ways the performers interact with the music and each other. Davis was involved in “The Factotum” and said these measures allowed the cast to uniquely engage with this new opera retelling of “The Barber of Seville.”
The event came to a close with Davis and DeYoung sharing advice they would give their college selves. Davis emphasized how critical it was to stay curious and ask for help. DeYoung echoed this, adding the importance of dreaming big, concluding that, “No’s are so worth it for the yes.”
Though the events have changed, Gonzalez says the adapted event format can help students “still feel special and that we’re still thinking of them even though we can’t offer them a discounted ticket.”
Gonzalez said specific plans about future events are unknown, but the team is hoping to get more ideas on formats based on responses to their initial event.
“We definitely want to continue to serve our NEXT audience with some type of individualized attention, whether that’s through virtual events or exclusive content that’s something of interest to them,” she shared.
For more information about upcoming NEXT College Nights and how to sign up for the program, those interested can visit www.lyricopera.org/NEXT.