Bente Strong: Advocacy for Young Opera Singers

Young artists’ evening of opera, Lieder and more on March 14

Although not a professional singer, Philipstown’s Bente Strong has long been a student of voice and is a singing member of the New York Choral Society. She is keenly aware of how difficult it is for young singers to launch their careers. “It takes a full decade to develop technique, which includes language, breathing, phrasing, musical sense and diction. You’re training hundreds of tiny muscles, learning French versus German versus Italian styles. On top of that they must learn how not to damage the voice … And the best teacher is performance. Singers can’t hear themselves, and have to rely on a good vocal coach or teacher.”

To assist young singers in the necessary training, and the concurrent need for performance, a number of years ago Strong began hosting private concerts in her home to raise money for young singers while enabling them to test new repertoire at the same time.

“In addition to the music,” she noted, “the audiences liked learning about what it takes to have a vocal career.” Even though many of the singers she hosted were winners of vocal competitions, some of those with monetary prizes, “the funds from these competitions are often designated for particular purposes. Singers have enormous costs: school, postgraduate studio work, periods where they’re apprentices in companies, time spent working on muscle memory in the voice, learning languages. There’s also so much which can derail you: allergies, strain, dry vocal chords and the emotional side of things — emotional stability is a big part of this because you can hear so much in the voice; the voice is the most exposed instrument.”

Strong feels passionately that “these kids need a ton of support. It doesn’t end once they’re done with formal study. They have to go to Europe to get entrenched in the repertoire. Even after study they have to learn, ‘What is your voice type, your natural range?’ — they can’t just go into it. And bookings are done years in advance, so you might be booked at age 27 to play a role when you’re 30. They often live somewhat like hermits, as inadequate sleep is a problem and alcohol swells the vocal chords. They need support.”

The program

Strong approached Gerald Moore — who has recently returned from touring with Renée Fleming — about the program. Once he came on board, he suggested the singers, who include Metropolitan Opera competition award winners, and has rehearsed with them in advance. They will perform a varied program consisting of arias and ensemble pieces taken from operas from different time periods, and a few selections from musical theater. Strong calls these emerging singers “rising stars; some may well become household names.”

Highlights include the trio from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier; the sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; and a group finale performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “How Does Your Garden Grow?” from Candide. For a full listing of the program, along with full biographies of the singers, see Philipstown.info.

The lineup (always subject to change) is as follows:

Sopranos: Clarissa Lyons, Claudia Rosenthal, Elizabeth Sutphen and Emily Way
Mezzo: Ann Louise Glasser
Tenors: Vincent Festa, Raymon Geis, Jorge Luis Martinez
Baritone: Johnathan McCullough
Bass: Eric Downs


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