Young artists win Arizona competition

L to R: Kresley Figueroa, Aubrey Ares and Sarah Ambrose won this year’s Arizona Young Artists’ Competition (Photo: Apatrou Photography)

I’m told there’s rarely a shortage of entries in the vocal category when the Arizona Young Artists’ Competition hits the Herberger Theater Center each year. But at least one vocalist found a way to truly stand out. She sang opera.

Kresley Figueroa, who won the 2012 AYAC vocal competition, was singing in community theater productions by age nine, and recalls starting “formal vocal training” at the age of ten. The saw her first opera, performed by the Sante Fe Opera, around the same time.

It didn’t wow her, she recalls, because the opera featured mostly men. And frankly, the tremendous power of their voices felt a little scary at the time. But other operas — performed by The Metropolitan Opera in NYC, the Arizona Opera in Phoenix and students at Northern Arizona University — tugged at her heart.

Figueroa, now a 15-year-old sophomore at Flagstaff High School, has studied vocal performance for about five years with Deborah Raymond, associate professor of voice at the NAU School of Music.

Kresley Figueroa of Flagstaff, who won the 2012 AYAC vocal competition

Figueroa takes lessons with Raymond once a week or so, but also participates “every few weeks” in a pre-college program at Juilliard in NYC for those who’ve got the potential to pursue professional careers in music.

When in NYC, Figueroa also studies with Adam Guettel, whose work on “The Light in the Piazza” earned him two Tony Awards — one for best score, and another for best orchestrations. Seems his family, including grandfather Richard Rodgers and mother Mary Rodgers, had a thing for music too.

Figueroa is generous about sharing tips with other young vocalists. Find someone you work well with, she says. And be sure there’s plenty of mutual respect. Above all, choose someone you trust — because “your voice is a fragile thing.” But study with others teachers too, suggests Figueroa. It’s good to get out there and work with more than one director.

Beware of trying to sound too old, vocally or emotionally, cautions Figueroa. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” The voice is constantly developing, she says, so it needs consistent attention over time.

Figueroa plans four years of study in a college or conservatory setting once she graduates in 2014 — plus graduate studies that’ll continue to hone her vocal performance. There’s little opportunity to experience arts at the local high school, says Figueroa. But she finds what she needs elsewhere.

She’s already taken two semesters of opera history at Northern Arizona University, and says she does a lot of reading on her own about opera and related topics — often tied to pieces she’s working to master.

Her advice to those who feel intimidated or turned off by opera is simple. Just try it. “Just experience it,” says Figueroa. Don’t worry about doing tons of homework ahead of time. It’s perfectly fine to go in completely blind. If something moves you, you can always go back and try to make sense of the pieces that didn’t click.

Folks wary of opera because they expect a stuffy atmosphere full of dressed-up patrons have another option — seeing simulcast or filmed opera performances in movie theaters and performing arts venues. Mixing opera with popcorn helps vanquish outdated stereotypes, so Figueroa’s all for it.

Figueroa’s first place finish earned her a $1,000 scholarship. Scholarhips were also awarded to Sarah Ambrose for first place in acting and Aubrey Ares for first place in dance.

Three AYAC people’s choice winners were also recognized this year — Logan Mitchell for voice, Sarah Ambrose for acting and Tori Mazzacone for dance. All competitors were between 15 and 19 years old.

The Arizona Young Artists’ Competition is a collaboration between Herberger Theater Center and Center Dance Ensemble designed to “showcase the diverse and emerging talent of young Arizona artists.”

Click here to learn more about visual and performing arts presented at Herberger Theater Center, and here to sign up for their newsletter so you’ll be among the first to learn about next year’s call for AYAC entries.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about Arizona Opera programs for youth, and here for information on Phoenix Opera

Coming up: Blog meets casserole?

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