Music students participating in touring education production

Five UNC Charlotte music students are getting a taste of the touring life this academic year. Nicholas Andruzzi, Nathaniel Corner, Mckeila Ortiz, DeLenn Rumbolo and Christian Souza were hired by Opera Carolina for its educational outreach program, Opera Xpress, which each year takes an opera production into local schools and community centers to perform for elementary students. This year’s production is “Los Coyotes y Las Conejas,” a 35-minute Spanish/English children’s opera by Héctor Armienta.

“The voice faculty are tremendously proud of our singers’ participation in the Opera Carolina Opera Xpress outreach program,” said voice professor Brian Arreola, who directs the Department of Music’s Opera Workshop program. “It speaks to the level of our students because they are competing with the Charlotte young professional crowd for these opportunities.”

Performances, which began in October, continue into June, with 60 to 75 touring dates across the 2023-24 academic year. “Los Coyotes y Las Conejas” has four characters with two casts that will perform the opera more than 30 times.

The repetition of the work over an extended period has been both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity, said senior voice major DeLenn Rumbolo, who plays the character “Chiquita.”

“With University productions, you will usually have two to four performances, and then you are on to the next thing. But we are doing ‘Los Coyotes’ once or twice a week for six months. Getting that many performances has allowed me to grow familiar with the role. I’ve been able to develop Chiquita’s personality and get comfortable with trying different things. If a joke doesn’t land in one week, I’ll try it a different way the next.”

Ashley Lam, the senior director for learning for Opera Carolina, opened the professional opportunity to students after hearing them sing in masterclasses at UNC Charlotte. The Department of Music has a partnership with Opera Carolina to bring guest artists to campus to work with students. Lam was impressed by the students’ abilities. She believes that the city’s professional opera company should contribute to the development of young musicians.

“It’s really turning into a great opportunity that enhances the learning that they are doing with their professors. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village to raise a singer, too.”

Lam said she hopes that future Opera Xpress productions will feature UNC Charlotte students.

“At the Opera we’ve really been intentional about creating an artist pipeline. After working with UNC Charlotte students this year, it’s proving to be an amazing resource for us as well as a tool for them to develop as artists. I think we will continue to make this an intentional part of our casting process.”

Rumbolo, who graduates this May, hopes to perform full time one day. While her career is likely to unfold on the more rarified stages of concert halls and opera houses, she says performing for children brings a special joy.

“Small children are some of the best audience members because their reactions aren’t tempered by ‘proper’ audience etiquette. When kids find something funny, they’ll laugh. If they think a character has been wronged by another they’ll shout out, ‘You better say sorry!’ It’s so refreshing to get that immediate feedback from an audience.”

As a voice student, Rumbolo is accustomed to singing in different languages. But Spanish is still rare in operas, and she is gratified to see how Charlotte-area students respond.

“In several of the schools we’ve performed in, the first language of a large percentage — or even the majority of — the students is Spanish. ‘Los Coyotes’ is in both English and Spanish, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve had a child after a performance come up to me unbelievably excited that we were singing and speaking in Spanish. I didn’t realize how important that would be to so many of the kids.”

Photo: Nicholas Andruzzi, front, as “Scrawny”