Phoebe Liu, Contributing Photographer
This semester, students enrolled in the Yale School of Music’s Yale Opera program have the chance to learn from Howard Watkins — pianist, conductor and current Yale Presidential Visiting Fellow.
Watkins is a collaborative pianist, assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and faculty member at Juilliard. This semester, he was invited as part of Yale’s Initiative for Faculty Excellence and Diversity to be a presidential fellow and specifically work with Yale Opera students. He will be coaching students in the program by helping them prepare for both personal pursuits and Yale Opera’s upcoming events.
“My classmates and I have been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work with Howard Watkins,” Nicole Leung MUS ’21 said. “The amount of knowledge he has in regards to style, diction, interpretation and overall musicianship has been of tremendous value to myself and my colleagues.”
Yale Opera is a program within the School of Music that offers specialized study of opera performance. This semester, Yale Opera is following a hybrid model for instruction. This model includes academic courses on Zoom and music lessons and coaching sessions either in person or online.
Program coordinators are planning in-person recording projects and recitals for Yale Opera. For example, Yale Opera is planning to record duets next week to be released online on April 15. In May, Yale Opera students will rehearse and perform opera scenes to be recorded and released over the summer.
According to Yale Opera Director Gerald Moore, all 14 students in the program are working with Watkins. Watkins’ coaching includes weekly one-on-one Zoom sessions on opera and song repertoire with Yale Opera singers. Moore mentioned that Watkins will also help students rehearse for their opera scenes in May and accompany some on piano.
Greer Lyle MUS ’22 said Watkins is helping her prepare for her own auditions, specifically with her “vocal approach to the pieces.”
“He makes you feel like you can be your own person when you’re there,” Lyle said. “He encourages us to be independent artists and to make our own choices, but guides us in the direction that is classically appropriate for the piece that we’re singing.”
Yale Opera often collaborates with visiting artists and professors. For instance, Yale Opera students occasionally work with external instructors, including language coaches. They also attend a weekly vocal seminar that frequently features guests. Lyle said that this semester, Yale Opera students will have the chance to speak with renowned opera singer Renée Fleming.
Lyle said that hearing from voices and leaders in the opera world gives students insights into the factors that make a healthy and successful career in opera beyond singing.
“I’m really lucky because I feel like the faculty has really tried their hardest to provide a quality education, given the crazy times,” Lyle said. “Although I may not be ‘boots on the ground,’ I still feel like there’s so many chances for me to absorb new insights from different individuals.”
Alongside serving on the faculty of the Juilliard School, Watkins is also on the faculty of the Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artist Program.
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