Santa Fe Opera gives apprentices a voice

With an arm around Lindoro, her lover, Rosina hurls an insult at Dr. Bartolo. The old fool will not marry her for her money!

Bartolo gapes, wondering how Lindoro got into Rosina’a room, disguised as a drunken soldier. The old man suspects his barber, Figaro, had something to do with the activity, but before he can find out, a chorus of police pounds on the door, demanding access to the house.

Figaro joins Rosina’s tirade, and by the time someone lets the cops in, they can’t figure out whom to arrest. They march in confused circles, to end the first act of the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”

The befuddled officers are brought to life by a group of highly capable vocalists in the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Singers Program. Throughout the summer, the SFO depends on these artists to play small parts, fill out ensembles, and appear in choruses for each of the five operas the company produces.

This year, whether the audience laughs along with Figaro, witnesses the grand spectacle of fairy-tale love in Puccini’s “Turandot,” revels in the pure emotion of Mozart’s tale of the Roman Empire, “Lucio Silla,” winces as bigoted villagers drive a fisherman to suicide in Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes,” or discovers the myth of Garcia Lorka in Golijov’s “Ainadamar,” SFO apprentices will sing somewhere on stage. One has a lead role. Kelley O’Connor portrays Garcia Lorka in “Ainadamar.”

The Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program for Singers began in 1957, the first of its kind in the United States. Then-SFO General Director John Crosby wanted to develop a bridge from a singer’s college work into his or her professional life — an important step, according to the recently appointed SFO director of the apprentice program, David Holloway, a tall quietly cheerful man with thick blondish hair.

“You go out there and show what you can do. People hire you.”

Also through the program, young singers can work “with wonderful conductors and marvelous artists, which is tremendous training,” Holloway says, emphasizing the words, a soft smile playing around his lips.

He reacts from experience. His postcollege vocal career began in 1966, when he was selected an SFO apprentice singer. Guided into the program by conductor Robert Baustian, Holloway worked with world-renowned singers such as Patricia Wise and Samuel Ramey. “It was my experience that let me see the larger world of opera.”

He also witnessed a classic example of “the show must go on.” A fire destroyed the opera house “on a Wednesday night after the performance and the party” for the American premiere of Paul Hindemith’s “Cardillac.” Holloway rushed to help construct a stage at a local high school. The season continued.

After two years as an SFO apprentice singer, Holloway’s professional debut came at the New York City Opera in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.” A stint at the Met followed, along with roles in Europe. In 1974, he returned to Santa Fe as Papagano in Mozart’s “Magic Flute.”

The chance to sing that role represented “another wonderful thing about the Santa Fe Opera Program for Apprentice Singers — the way John Crosby and (present General Director Richard Gaddes) view former apprentices.”

Before the Santa Fe Opera apprentice- singer program, a career start in an opera chorus meant a career in an opera chorus. “People would never hear you doing leading repertory. Mr. Crosby and Mr. Gaddes changed that.” After “The Magic Flute,” Holloway created roles in “The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein” and “Count Ory” in Santa Fe. Recently, he appeared in two winter projects, “H.M.S. Pinafore,” and “The Beggar’s Opera.”

While his singing career developed, Holloway began teaching, and today heads the voice department at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. When the former administrator of the SFO apprentice- singers program retired, Holloway jumped at the chance to become the new director.

Now in his first summer on the job, he finds the current apprentices having experiences similar to his. “I’m hearing consistently how much they’re enjoying the (principal artists) Gaddes has brought in.”

Apprentices come from all over the country, and may return three times. Auditions start in October in major cities. Over 1,100 singers applied for a spot in this year’s program. memorizing four arias, and presenting two, one of their choosing and one selected by the judges. Forty-two vocalists were admitted to the program.

Besides singing the SFO repertory, the apprentices offer two evenings of their own opera scenes, this year on Aug. 14 and 21. Holloway has helped them select the music, drawing again on his own professional experience. He appeared in many of the operas from which the apprentices have taken cuttings.

Local churches and restaurants also invite the young artists to sing. “I love to hear them in another context,” Holloway laughs. “I learn so much about them as singers and performers when I hear them in a different way.” Like him, some apprentices will launch professional careers when the current SFO season ends. Soprano Jennifer Black and baritone Jordan Shanahan will enter the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist Program.

Meantime, Holloway will just enjoy working with them. “I try to help the kids find themselves as singers,” he says.

When the season ends, he will review the 50-year-old program for apprentice singers to consider any change to the experiences it offers. But overall, he finds it “in great shape.” Young artists will continue adding zest to the Santa Fe Opera each summer, as they always have.

To find out more about the Santa Fe Opera, call 800-280-4654, or go to

From Arts & Entertainment, August 2005.