A Vocal Student Perspective: Soprano Yvette Keong

By Logan Martell

On May 3, 2019, Australian soprano Yvette Keong will perform her graduation recital at the Manhattan School of Music’s Greenfield Hall. While still a member of the school’s Senior Opera Theater, Keong has quickly begun to make a name for herself with recent appearances in the role of Pamina in the Berlin Opera Academy’s 2018 production of “Die Zauberflöte,” which she braved again for the 2018 Prague Summer Night Festival. As a soloist, she performed in “Opera Under the Arch”, a summer recital series at Washington Square Park, as well as in the Manhattan School of Music’s Centennial Gala Concert at Carnegie Hall.

OperaWire had the pleasure of speaking with Yvette Keong to learn more about her experiences as a student artist, what audiences can look forward to hearing at her upcoming recital, and what lies ahead on her path as a rising soprano in the performing arts.

OperaWire: Tell me a little about your musical background. When did you realize you wanted to sing opera and classical music professionally?

Yvette Keong: A moment in my musical life that had a great impact on my want to pursue opera was when I was fourteen years old, singing Mabel in “Pirates of Penzance.” I still have this incredibly vivid memory of returning home and getting into bed after our opening night, and feeling an overwhelming happiness and a sense of certainty that I wanted to do this every day of my life.

OW: You’re from Australia, studying in America, and performing throughout Europe; what do you feel are some of the challenges and rewards of an international lifestyle?

YK: I am always very thankful that this career allows me to experience so many of the different places of this world. I always leave places having discovered something about myself. It has challenged me to stay strong in who I am and strong in my faith as to what I want to do. It can be very isolating and lonely to be so far from home, and to remain connected with those you love despite differing time zones and constantly changing lives. I try to focus on being grateful for everything I have been allowed to experience through singing.

OW: What brought you to the Manhattan School of Music?

YK: I have always wanted to live in New York City – it is such a vibrant and energetic place, full of inspiration and history. When I received my acceptance after auditioning, I knew it was a pathway to being able to finally be in this city.

OW: What does a day in the life of an MSM senior look like?

YK: I live off-campus, so generally I wake up early and have some breakfast before taking the subway to school to begin class. By senior year, classical voice majors are taking vocal literature, acting, and career-building classes, having weekly lessons and coachings, as well as being in rehearsal for Senior Opera Theater. We also take elective courses – currently I take Alexander Technique.

OW: How do you like to unwind after a long day of classes and practice?

YK: Some of my favourite things of life are reading and drawing. I actually drew and did oil paintings for many years growing up, and I love to sketch when I can. I also love to unwind by reading, and I read during my morning commute. I am currently reading “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami.

OW: You recently took on the role of Miss Wordsworth in the MSM’s production of “Albert Herring.” Can you describe your experience of putting the show together?

YK: It was so much fun to perform Miss Wordsworth in “Albert Herring,” which is such a witty and comedic opera. The process began by musically working through the piece with Maestro Jorge Parodi. We also met with our incredible director Dona D. Vaughn very early on in the process to speak through our thoughts on our characters: What do they think of themselves? What do they think of the others in this town? We then phased into staging the scenes and building the opera. One of my favourite stages of the process is once everything has settled and you can really begin to live and enjoy the opera moment by moment.

OW: What do you enjoy most about the work?

YK: While the opera is very fun-loving, Britten’s music, rhythm, and text setting are actually very complex, specific, and planned. Once all of this is integrated in the performance, it translates to the audience as being incredibly subtle, organic, and natural. His characters are so potent and real, and the dynamics of all the people of Loxford shine through. Living with Miss Wordsworth over our time working on this opera was a joy for me – she is full of energy, sweetness, and a passion for her students.

OW: You also recently sang in the MSM’s Centennial Gala concert at Carnegie Hall, what was it like for you to perform on such a prominent stage?

YK: It is such a beautiful place to sing in – while intimidatingly large, it feels incredibly intimate once you are on stage. It almost feels as if you can see all the individual audience members. It was very special to share the stage with my lovely colleagues, whom I have grown to love and respect very much over my time at MSM.

OW: Tell me about the program for your graduation recital, how did you go about deciding which pieces you wanted to sing?

YK: It is a program that is very special to me and features pieces that have been integral in my singing over the past year. The recital was coached by the wonderful Warren Jones, and it was such an incredible experience to work on the program with him. One of the pieces I will be singing is “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” by Samuel Barber, which is a piece that is very dear to my heart. It speaks of family, home, and longing so poignantly. I am lucky enough to be supported by three incredible pianists in this recital: Andrew King, Anna Smigelskaya, and William Woodard.

OW: What are some of the highlights of your time as a student of the Manhattan School of Music?

YK: One of the highlights of my time at MSM has been meeting, collaborating with, and learning from my colleagues and friends who I will cherish always. I have been able to sing in various masterclasses at MSM for musicians such as Martin Katz, Jane Glover, and Hei-Kyung Hong, as well as sing with orchestras and perform in operas. It has truly been a time where I have been able to discover my own individual voice as an artist.

OW: What do you think you’ll miss the most?

YK: I will really miss the teachers and incredible faculty I have been able to work with. I found a sense of family at this school, and was given a safe and very supportive space in which I was able to take risks, have fun, and challenge myself.

OW: Is there any advice you would give to the incoming year of students?

YK: Allow yourself to grow at your own pace and enjoy the process. We are told that so much, and it’s easy to become frustrated and want immediate improvement. I found that giving myself growing space, and not comparing myself to the pace of others allowed me to actually understand myself and my voice much more.

OW: What is the next step in your journey as an artist?

YK: After my graduation in May, I will be heading to Houston where I have been invited to attend Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Vocal Academy. This summer, I will also be a Voice Fellow at the Music Academy of the West, where I will perform Katie and cover Ada in Jennifer Higdon’s “Cold Mountain,” and will also be performing in scenes as Juliette in “Roméo et Juliette” and Nannetta in “Falstaff.” I will also be in New York City to sing as part of a summer concert series “Opera Under the Arch” at Washington Square Park, which I was also a part of last year. After the summer, I will be returning to New York City to begin my Masters at The Juilliard School.



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