Hoof Prints: Learning to belt it out – Project Opera opens doors

Even though seniors John Perkins and Lily Johnson can be quite silly together at times when it comes to music they are almost always focused. (Pony Express staff photo by Lucien Lemanski)
Even though seniors John Perkins and Lily Johnson can be quite silly together at times when it comes to music they are almost always focused. (Pony Express staff photo by Lucien Lemanski)


Editor’s note: This piece is provided by Hoof Prints, a partnership between the Stillwater Gazette and The Pony Express, Stillwater Area High School’s student newspaper.

When people think about the opera they think of dramatic singers, Vikings, lots of make up and usually tragedy. Two out of four are accurate — the make up and dramatic singers.

“The best thing that happened in my vocal career is joining the Minnesota Opera student program,” Stillwater Area High School senior John Perkins said. “It’s been a blast and a great way to make connections.”

Seniors Lily Johnson and John Perkins are in Project Opera. This organization is Minnesota Opera’s premiere vocal training program for young singers ages 10-18. The program is dedicated to providing young singers with hands-on experiences with opera.

The audition-based program rehearses weekly throughout the school year. Each season the program presents a fully-staged opera by kids, for kids. Participants have also been able to study under major conductors including operatic vocal teachers and professionals in choral organizations.

“I pursued operatic training because I am working towards reaching my full vocal potential,” Johnson said. “I think it’s every singer’s ultimate goal to be the best they possibly can, and opera is the fastest track there.”

Perkins has a different reason for pursuing his vocal career.

“I had a good friend who always wanted me to sing,” he said. “She finally convinced me, and when she died, I felt like I needed to honor her dreams for me.”

Singing opera, there is a lot of territory to cover. Training for opera usually requires a long process of lessons or study. The three most important areas are sound, technique and language. For many singers, the long process of studying also means starting early in life.

“The best thing about opera, I think, is to not only be singing and learning as an individual, but to be creating a musical story with those around you, weaving such a powerful energy,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Perkins are also looking toward college to further their vocal training. Some colleges are even seeking them out because of their voices.

“Many schools have sought me out because of 2013 All State Choir and the choir director of All State Men’s Choir, Lee Nelson of Warburg College, going to them and telling them about me,” Perkins said. “There are also a couple world-renowned people who want me to study with them, such as Simon Estes and Stephen King (no lies, there’s a voice teacher in Texas actually named that).”

“I guess you could say St. Olaf, Concordia Moorhead, and Simpson college all ‘sought me out’, but that was regarding chorale affairs,” Johnson said.

Johnson is already sending in auditions for colleges, and she has high hopes, but she has the voice to support her.

“I have already applied to all of my schools because my intended major, vocal performance, requires both video and live auditions for admittance,” Johnson said. “Next year I will be going to either Eastman School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, DePaul School of Music, St. Olaf, Concordia Moorhead, or Simpson College.”

Both Johnson and Perkins are in an opera called “Griffelkin,” and it is the story of a little devil who travels to Earth to perform one bad deed for his 10th birthday. While wreaking havoc, he meets a brother and sister grieving over the loss of their mother. After using his magic to bring her back to life, Griffelkin is found guilty of treason against Hell. He’s exiled to earth, and just when he is feeling most alone, he learns the meaning of family.

Perkins plays oldest devil, while Johnson plays the fountain statue in “Griffelkin.”