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At Seattle Opera, grooming the next generation of stars

Sarah Larsen (as Charlotte) and Andrew Stenson (as Werther) in Jules Massenet's "Werther." The Seattle Opera Young Artists production is currently playing throughout the Northwest.
Photo by Alan Abastro
Sarah Larsen (as Charlotte) and Andrew Stenson (as Werther) in Jules Massenet's "Werther." The Seattle Opera Young Artists production is currently playing throughout the Northwest.

It used to be that aspiring opera singers would live with their voice teachers and practice every day. That was in the 1800s.

Nowadays, the typical track is college followed by graduate school and then professional training at a major opera company.  That’s where Seattle Opera and its Young Artists Program come in.

The program launched in 1998. During 21 intensive weeks, participants receive a salary, instruction, opportunities to audition for mainstage productions and coaching by artistic director Peter Kazaras.

'A voice to contend with'

"We have just gone through almost 600 applications for the few number of places we are going to have next year," Kazaras says.

"And I can tell you, what happens is when it’s great you stop talking and you listen. And you kind of get goosebumps and you stop taking notes. And you stop thinking analytically and you think that this is a voice to contend with."

Two voices that struck Kazaras hard are those belonging to mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen, 26, and tenorAndrew Stenson, who is 25. They're both from Minnesota and happen to be roommates in Seattle this year, along with a third Young Artist member.

There are 8 singers and 1 pianistin this year's Young Artists Program.

"I remember going to the Minnesota Opera when I was about 15 and seeing 'The Barber of Seville' at a student matinee. And I was sitting in the balcony and leaning forward the entire time and I was thinking, 'That looks awesome!'" Larsen recalls. "One of the great things about the theater and especially opera for me is, I’m an only a child and am very shy and I can just go out there and be whoever I need to be and it's definitely a great release."

Breaking hearts, repeatedly

Stenson recalls the first opera he ever saw: " 'Carmen' and at the end, Jose whips out a knife and he cuts Carmen’s throat and she runs and slams against this white wall in the back and leaves this giant blood streak as she’s dying and I thought, 'This is exactly what I want to do!' "

"The best part about this art is that we get to let ourselves and hopefully get other people to feel things that they don’t let themselves feel on an everyday basis," Stenson says. "As masochistic as it sounds, it's nice to come to work and get my heart broken like three or four times a week."

You can see Larsen break Stenson's heart in the Seattle Opera Young Artists' production of the French opera "Werther" by Jules Massenet.

Play times:

  • Nov. 9 at Central Washington University in Ellensburg
  • Nov. 12 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay, British Columbia
  • Nov. 16 at Walla Walla Community College in Walla Walla
  • Nov. 19 at Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall in Seattle.

For more information go to the Seattle Opera website.

The Young Artists Program will also launch a production of "Don Pasquale" in spring 2012.

Artscape” is a weekly KPLU feature covering Northwest art, performances and artists. The feature is published here on Sundays and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Monday during Morning Edition, All Things Considered and on Weekend Saturday Edition.