In this latest episode of Musica, we take a look behind the scenes at the Zurich International Opera Studio where a group of rising Opera stars have their sights set on the world's biggest stages.
They are young opera singers, they've finished their studies, and now they are ready to embark on an exciting singing career.
In this episode of Musica, we follow young, inspiring singers from the International Opera Studio in Zurich as they work tirelessly to achieve their dream.
“You mainly learn what this profession is all about [...] It's not only acting and singing. It's also personal things. What are my goals? What do I want to achieve? Where do I actually want to go? You have to time and plan everything really well,” Chelsea Zurflüh told Musica.
The Opera Studio marks an important transition between studies and a professional career.
“It's really a bridge," explained Thomas Barthel, the Deputy Manager of the International Opera Studio. "We are giving them the opportunity to train every day for one or two years. And they get their experience with us - and at the same time - on the main stage."
With a lot of empathy, the teachers create a safe space for these young artists. Voice coaching, master classes and lessons in stagecraft are at the heart of the training.
"What can you do with your eyes? What is happening? What can you do with your back? All of that is important on stage," said the studio's Management Assistant, Renata Blum.
Learning from the masters
Maximilian Lawrie studied singing in Oxford and London in the UK. He is among 18 young singers from around the globe who have the chance to learn from the best.
"The main thing is having teachers and staff who are absolutely invested in you and you've got the time to develop without the pressure of thinking you must go on stage and you must sing these main roles and it needs to be perfect," Maximillian explained.
With coaching sessions with the director of the Opera Studio, South African-born contralto Freya Apffelstaedt is able to receive valuable advice.
"When I think about how I sounded before I started the singing lessons, it's such a huge difference to how I sound now. And I was also much more shy then than I am now. So I find it much easier to come out of myself and really use my personality on stage," she revealed to Musica.
But the path towards a successful career is not an easy one to take, explains Adrian Kelly, who is involved in management for the Studio.
"They have to be very strong. They have to have the strength to start a difficult career and persevere. And for them to feel comfortable, it's important to me that they continue to develop vocally in a healthy direction," he explained.
Performing with the stars
Unlike most academies, the Zurich Opera Studio offers its students the incredible opportunity to prepare their own production.
In the Swiss city of Winterthur, Freya and Chelsea are absorbed in an intensive rehearsal schedule preparing George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece 'Serse.'
The opera is based on the story of Xerxes I of Persia and is vocally challenging.
Meanwhile, in Zurich, Maximilian is getting ready for his performance in a new production of Romeo and Juliette, where he will share the stage with some of the best in the business.
For many of the young singers, it’s their first professional experience alongside the stars. Maximilian meets the famous French tenor Benjamin Bernheim, who also started his international career at the International Opera Studio.
"For me, the Zurich Opera Studio was an extraordinary experience. In other words, every evening, every performance, there was at least one star on stage," Benjamin said.
"One evening, there was (Renée) Fleming, then there was Cecilia Bartoli, Jonas Kaufmann, Piotr Beczała. There was a plethora of stars. What it gave me was a sort of very, very high bar to reach. I told myself, this is the level I want to reach, so I'm going to have to work for it.”
"Watching Benjamin Bernheim work is incredible," Maximilian Lawrie told Musica. "It's something to inspire and make me want to work harder and harder on technique and all of these things," he added.
Juliette is embodied by the French star-soprano Julie Fuchs who loves sharing the limelight with the upcoming artists.
"I think it's always an asset for a production to have members of the Opera Studio," she insisted. "I always find that they bring energy, enthusiasm, humility, youth and freshness. And I'm always happy when there are members of the Opera Studio on a production."
Setting their sights on a bright future
Back in Winterthur, it’s the last rehearsal before the big premiere. The young artists are in a great mood.
"The team spirit is really good. We are a good group, a cool troupe. We like each other, we eat lunch together or have coffee together after rehearsals or between rehearsals,” artist-in-residence, Chelsea Zurflüh, revealed.
"I see my future very positively, where I could sing in places that I can only dream of now, and that I will be able to sing really amazing roles in lots of different places. That's my dream," she added.
"I have really been able to learn a lot here. I always thought I had to fulfil a certain role on stage. And I always felt a bit strange because I thought I had to pretend on stage. But actually, it's completely the other way around. You have to bring your personality on stage and see what you can find of yourself in a role,” Freya Apffelstaedt concluded.