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Tomorrow’s stars singing today

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When baritone Zachary Nelson applied to become a 2012 apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera, he secretly hoped that he would be cast in a small role in either Richard Strauss’ “Arabella” or Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca.”

“I got roles in both of them,” Nelson said. “I’ve been very busy this summer.”

Nelson is one of 40 young singers who were accepted into the Santa Fe Opera’s apprentice program, which gives students of opera an opportunity to sing alongside some of the world’s most renowned opera stars.

If you go
WHAT: Santa Fe Opera presents Apprentice Showcase Scenes
WHEN: 8 tonight
WHERE: Santa Fe Opera, seven miles north of Santa Fe on U.S. 84/285
HOW MUCH: $21 adults, $7 children 6-17 at www.santafeopera.org or 505-986-5900 after 4 p.m.

“We view the program as a bridge from the conservatory to the professional life,” said David Holloway, who has been directing the program since 2005. “While the apprentices receive coaching and instruction here at the opera during the summer, we hire them as professionals who have small roles in every opera we present.”

Nelson gets a chance to enter the spotlight during the opera’s final Apprentice Showcase Scenes, which takes place tonight at the Santa Fe Opera. Instead of being in the background, apprentices take starring roles in scenes from major operas. Among the operas featured during the evening’s performance are “The Rape of Lucretia” by Benjamin Britten, “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Richard Strauss.

“I’m really excited that we’re able to present a scene from ‘Silent Night’ by Kevin Puts,” Holloway said. “The opera won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize. I contacted Kevin to ask him if we could do a scene from his opera during an apprentice showcase, and he graciously agreed.”

Nelson, who appears tonight in scenes from “Andrea Chenier” by Umberto Giordano and Leonard Bernstein’s musical “West Side Story,” is finishing up his final year in the Artist Diploma program at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. At 26 years old, he has won numerous prizes in international vocal competitions and enjoyed a Carnegie Hall debut.

“The Santa Fe Opera is one of the most important festivals in the world and has the top apprentice program,” he said. “In addition to the summer’s performance opportunities, we also get a chance to sing an aria in front of directors of major opera companies who come to Santa Fe to listen to us sing. It’s a big job interview.”

Twenty-seven-year-old soprano Abigail Santos-Villalobos, who hails from Puerto Rico and is a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, is grateful for all the experiences she is enjoying as an apprentice this summer. She assumes the role of Maria in tonight’s scene from “West Side Story” and takes part in a scene from Puccini’s opera “Gianni Schicchi” earlier in the program.

“This has been a great opportunity for me to figure out what the professional opera world is all about,” she said. “I watch the pros and ask questions, particularly about things like musical phrasing. I knew when I was accepted as an apprentice that it was hard to get here, and I really appreciate this experience.”

More than 900 singers applied to become Santa Fe Opera apprentices this summer. Five hundred of them were chosen to sing at live auditions in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

“We’ve had so many apprentices go on to have wonderful careers,” said Holloway. “Joyce DiDonato and Samuel Ramey are just two former apprentices who have become important international singers. The Apprentice Showcase is really an opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow.”

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