Young Patronesses of the Opera has a highly distinctive profile among Miami music institutions. A social volunteer organization formed in the 1950s to support opera education and opera awareness in the South Florida area, YPO adds to its membership by invitation only. Currently, that membership boasts some of the most accomplished and socially prominent women in Miami.
On April 8 at 2 p.m., YPO will present the Finals Concert of its Twenty-ninth National Voice Competition. The competition, held in conjunction with Florida Grand Opera, will take place at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach. Thirty young artists in both the Junior and Senior divisions will compete for a lineup of awards that includes a Grand Prize of $10,000. For tickets, call 1–800-211‑1414 or go to www.colonymb.org.
I contacted a few of the competitors to talk to them about their aria choices and past competition successes, trials, and blunders.
Robert Erlichman, tenor
One of the arias that I will probably be doing first at YPO is from Madama Butterly: “Addio fiorito asil.” It’s beautiful and short. Lensky’s “Kuda, kuda” feels wonderful, too.
The first major competition I did was a couple of years ago, in Phoenix. And I actually placed third in that. That was exciting. But the best part of it was afterward, when the judges were kind enough to go over some things personally with each individual. For a young tenor, it’s always tempting to try to sound older. You want to sing all of these pieces, and maybe you get outside of technically what is best for you. So it was great just getting different advice and direction from these judges.
My teacher of ten years is Neil Rosenshein. I went to the Manhattan School of Music and he’s been a great teacher and mentor for me, and he always encourages me to make the mistake—to go for it. Especially for tenors, our biggest fear is to crack a high note. If you’re too focused on technique, you’re losing the connection with the audience.
Studying with Neil got me out of a very bad habit. If I would mess something up, I would always say, “Dammit!” And he finally got it through to me that if I kept that up, it would come out one day in a competition!
Betsy Diaz, soprano
I live in Miami, and I’ve actually worked at Florida Grand Opera. I was a Young Artist there a few years ago, and prior to that, I worked in the box office. It’s always been great that we have something locally. We don’t have a lot of opportunities for competitions for local singers. Being that it happens every couple of years, a lot of Miami singers take advantage and apply to the competition.
When I’m singing in a competition, I just focus on arias that I feel showcase my voice and talent. Things I’ve gotten in my body, like “MI chiamano Mimì.” I have a bigger voice than your typical Mimì, but it feels great because I have done the role, and I feel connected to the character. My other aria that I feel really connected to is “L’altra notte.” I love it because not a lot of people sing it. I’m also offering “After You Hear Me Out” by Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied. It’s beautiful, and I hope they ask for it in Miami. I’ve been offering it for a year now, and I haven’t been asked for it in auditions or in competitions. But I keep putting it in there because it’s something modern and different.
I think that dramatically I’ve improved a lot. It has to do with maturing as an artist and a musician, and having more life experiences. It means you can inhabit the music much more fully.
I recently sang for the Met competition. I ended up doing it in the New York region, and I passed through the regionals. I didn’t place in the finals, but I felt equal against my peers. It was a validation—you know?
Emily Blair, soprano
For competitions, I usually start with the Jewel Song from Faust. I also like to start with “Non mi dir.” And I like singing the Czardas from Fledermaus. I started working on it maybe two years ago, but put it away. This is the first time I’m going to be doing it for a competition. Something that is in my package, and one I like, but would not start with, is the Embroidery Aria [Peter Grimes]. It’s hard to set the mood with that one.
What I have been working on for the past couple of years is making my character choices very clear. And I don’t think I’m 100 percent there yet, because performing is always an evolving process. But I think I’m proud that I’ve come as far as I have. I have an acting coach. I did the CoOPERAtive program this past summer, which was really helpful. All of those things combined awakens my intuition, which I kind of lost in undergrad and grad school, because I was so focused on technique.
Once, in an audition, I was singing “Steal me, sweet thief.” I had been singing it for six years. I knew it cold. I get up there, and I sing, “What a curse for a woman is a timid man”—and I blank on the words. Instead of singing what comes next, I said, “SHIT!” We all had a good laugh, and I started again. But needless to say, I did not get hired.
Liana Guberman, soprano
I haven’t entered the Young Patronesses Competition in the past. I did the Young Artists program at Palm Beach Opera, so I started to become more familiar with the Florida singing circuit. When I studied the YPO competition online, I saw how the competition really invests in singers’ careers, and it seemed like all the people who were winners were going on to do really great things. YPO is very generous: even if you don’t win something, they provide a small stipend for travel, which allows us people in New York City or other places to get down there.
My favorite aria to sing in an audition is “Das war sehr gut, Mandryka” from Arabella. I usually choose not to start with it because it occurs at the end of the opera, but I hope for it to be chosen for the second or third aria in Miami. In terms of a starting piece, I love doing “Mi chiamano Mimì” or Rusalka’s Song to the Moon, both of which occur in the beginning of the operas, so I feel like those are good warm-up arias.
I have learned not to have any expectations in a competition. I don’t like to judge myself while I’m singing. Let’s say I feel like I did really well and I don’t wind up being a winner; I don’t feel bummed because I still did the best job I could do.
Three years ago, I was hit by a car as a pedestrian, I was singing in the Jensen Foundation Competition the following day. My entire body ached, and most people in their right mind would have chosen not to audition. But I literally felt like I had another chance at life because i survived this crazy thing. I felt like I was singing for my life!