OperaFest 2010 this Friday at Union Chapel


“Glitter and Be Gay” is considered among the most difficult arias to master. The selection from Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 operetta “Candide” demands a series of challenging high-notes and intricate rhythms. Its lyrical content discusses, among other mature topics, gold-digging and an appreciation for fine champagne.

When 18-year-old Brianna Meese approached the piano’s side, it was a safe bet that she didn’t relate to the material, and it was hard to imagine her pulling off such a taxing and complex piece of music at such a young age.

The young woman’s voice put any doubt to rest July 9 at Vineyard Arts Project in Edgartown where 17 young vocalists performed under the theme “Broadway Nights.”

The show was the first concert of OperaFest 2010, a two-week program that provides up-and-coming singers with vocal and performance training. The program culminates July 16 at 8 pm inside Oak Bluffs’s Union Chapel with a fully-staged performance titled “Summer Passions: Searing Arias, Sizzling Scenes, and Melting Romance from Classic Opera.”

Through Oradell Arts & Business Coalition, a nonprofit organization involved in community arts projects, OperaFest hosts 14 high school-aged vocal students from the New York City area and another three from North Carolina. It was started six years ago by vocal instructor Claudette Peterson and her husband David Kline, both of whom have extensive opera business experience.

After spending its first three years in Italy, Operafest moved to Martha’s Vineyard. Not only has the move made OperaFest more affordable for students, the Island has benefited as well.

“The fact that they can see young people performing classical music is a real specialty, and the people on the Island really appreciate that,” says Mr. Kline.

Throughout the two weeks, students enjoy a rigorous daily schedule starting every day at 8 am. Eight faculty members — whose resumés boast experience from Julliard to Broadway — teach yoga, Pilates, acting and improv classes, diction training, music theory instruction, vocal coaching, and rehearsals.

As Mr. Kline put it, “It’s very much like being an athlete. I call it a ‘full-contact sport.'”

Ms. Meese, a resident of Franklin Lakes, N.J., has been training since she was in eighth grade, but wasn’t always thrilled about opera.

“I hated it at first,” she said. “I thought it was for old, fat people.”

Ms. Meese’s love of opera grew with exposure. She will attend the University of Virginia in the fall, and opera remains at the forefront of her career ambitions.

“Classical music is my thing, my element,” she says. “I would love to perform someday at the New York City Opera or the Metropolitan.”

While Ms. Meese will perform selections Friday from “The Little Prince” and “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” Patrick Sweeney of Mahwah, N.J. will tackle songs from “The Four Note Opera” and “Pirates of Penzance.” Mr. Sweeney, 17, said OperaFest offered him his first opportunity to try method acting, and has been instrumental in his development as a performer.

“It has helped strengthen my confidence,” says Mr. Sweeney. “The versatility of it helps you to grow.”

After beginning training with Mrs. Peterson at the age of 15, Mr. Sweeney’s aspirations have focused toward stage acting and film, and includes an interest in writing a play.

“I’ve really found home in this craft,” he says. “OperaFest is an opportunity I’m glad I didn’t let slip.”

Tickets for Summer Passions are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and senior citizens.

“They’re all amazingly talented, it’s kind of scary sometimes,” stage manager Kate Hancock says. “It’s astounding when you hear these voices coming out of these young people. It’s really quite remarkable.”

Max Orenstein is a recent graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, Penn., currently living in Edgartown.