Dream Begins for a CUNY Soprano
Adapted and expanded here is a story from a new second-season edition of Study With the Best, a regularly scheduled 30-minute TV news magazine highlighting CUNYs wide array of outstanding faculty, remarkable students and alumni, and major University academic initiatives. The lively, fast-paced series (CUNY- TV Channel 75, Sundays at 8) is aimed particularly at prospective CUNY students in local high schools.
For several years, Giacomo Puccinis evergreen opera about love among the hard-of- luck, budding artists, La Bohème, has been thriving on Broadway in disguise: Jonathan Larsons rock-musical riff on the story Rent, set in todays East Village. Now the opera itselfevery note Puccinisis making its Broadway debut in a popular, critically acclaimed production directed by Baz Luhrmann.
Wei credits her voice teachers at Brooklyn College with helping her achieve this success so soon, but they had no doubt she would quickly command the spotlight.
When I was very little, I liked singing, but mostly Chinese pop music. I really loved singing, Huang recalls. I never thought seriously of singing on the stagebeing a professional or operatic singer.
Nevertheless, Huang decided to audition at the Conservatory for a Masters degree in vocal performance, and she was accepted in early 2000.
The Conservatorys Opera Theatre program has approximately 40 voice candidates, says Richard Barrett, its director. The primary emphasis is on performance. The students come from all over the world. We have Koreans, Germans, Chinese, Frenchyou name it.
One of the programs voice teachers, William Woodruff explains, My main task is to teach these students how to sing, but the other part of our job is also to get them ready for a career. Its not just to sing in ones own living room and develop a pretty tone. Our students must learn how to use their voices professionallyhow to turn their studies here into a professional career.
In addition to theory courses, Huang particularly valued the experience gained in the Masters workshops. Every semester the Conservatory stages an opera performed by a student cast, and I was very lucky to get opportunities to practice on stage regularly.
Conductor Barrett recalls working with Huang. I put her in four operas here at the College. The first time was difficult for her, because she was not used to someone saying move left or move right and go downstage, then back. But she was greatand in the second opera even better.
Barrett adds, Weis final performance for us was in the title role of Lehárs Merry Widow, which we did in English. Of all the people on stage, she was the singer you could understand best!
One day last year I was chatting with my vocal coach, Huang recalls, and she asked if I had heard about a new production of Bohème on Broadway. At first, I thought: Opera on Broadway? What a weird idea! But Huang continued pondering. Could I really sing on Broadway? Her initial answer to the question changed from no to why not? So she decided to go to the audition.
Barrett says, Every soprano in townand many from outside itwas auditioning for the part. I asked her to tell me exactly what they said after the first go-round. I guaranteed Wei shed get the part if she was invited back.
She was, and she did. Not to Barretts great surprise. Shes a talented, gifted young performer with a beautiful voice, and shes going to do wellas you can see already.
I was so excited! Huang remembers. Wow, I thought, my first operain New York, in Americawill be on Broadway! My experience at Brooklyn College really helped me to understand that singing is not just singing. Its everythingacting and interacting with other vocalists. It means being an artist
Then Wei Huang adds a remark that is doubtless music to the ears of her teachers at the Conservatory: I think my dream is starting now yes, now is the beginning of my dream.