“The Buffs” help their 500th singer climb a little higher

One of our most valuable local support organizations has announced a major achievement, with the Opera Buffs helping their 500th singer achieve her goals — and she’s a Lister!  Yelena Dyachek is the milestone in soprano form, and we’re delighted for both org and performer.  The company’s press release follows, with lots of links:

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[Press release]

Opera Buffs Assists its 500th Young Vocal Artist

LOS ANGELES, Calif. Since 1983, The Opera Buffs has been supporting emerging opera singers at a crucial juncture – the years of transition from student to professional performer.  As of this year, the all-volunteer organization has reached an important milestone – adding its 500th singer to the roster of young artists it has assisted.

dyachek_yelenaThe 500th honoree is Ukrainian-born soprano, Yelena Dyachek, who requested – and received – financial aid to record audition arias. “Thanks to the Opera Buffs, I got to move on to the live rounds of those auditions,” says Dyachek.

But the Buffs’ generosity extended beyond this grant. The organization also invited Dyachek to practice her craft in a paid performance before a live audience of Opera Buffs members and opera enthusiasts eager to hear new talent.

Whether Dyachek’s career follows the trajectory of such fellow Opera Buffs’ alumni as Richard Bernstein, Charles Castronovo, Michelle DeYoung, Julianna Di Giacomo, Greg Fedderly, Angela Meade, Danielle De Niese, Sondra Radvanovsky, and Deborah Voigt remains to be seen. But, more than likely, each singer would agree that the Buffs provided invaluable assistance when they needed it most.

Bass Richard Bernstein is a case in point. “I would not be a working singer today if it were not for the immeasurable help from the Opera Buffs,” says Bernstein, who has appeared for 21 consecutive seasons on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and sung leading roles everywhere from Seattle Opera to the Savonlinna Festival in Finland. “I was provided a vast amount of assistance for lessons, coachings, travel for auditions, and performance opportunities.”

But the Buffs’ help extended even beyond this. “As a young student, I had nowhere to live until Opera Buffs’ founder Rena Cohen introduced me to Board Member Eleanor Blasi at a private luncheon at her home,” relates Bernstein.  “Eleanor said that I could stay in her guest room for up to 6 weeks. Well, that didn’t happen! I ended up living with her for 6 1/2 years and becoming like an adopted son.  I am so grateful for all the Opera Buffs have done for me, both personally and professionally. I will eternally be indebted to them.”

Soprano Julianna Di Giacomo, who has performed at the Met as well as at venues ranging from Los Angeles Opera to Teatro alla Scala, could not agree more. “The Opera Buffs is a very special organization that not only gives financial support to singers, but also takes the time to get to know the artists and give them support and guidance,” she explains. “Yes, the Opera Buffs helped me pay for voice lessons and coachings, but they also encouraged me to believe in myself and strive to reach my greatest potential.  I know that I would not be where I am today without having had that incredible support.”

To discover new vocal talents and to foster them financially and help them grow is the sole purpose of the Opera Buffs. “We aid singers throughout their training and at the outset of their period of auditioning for management and houses,” says David Alan Gibb, President of the Board of Directors.

This aid often involves assisting artists with career-development and profession-related expenses. Among these are transportation costs and fees for auditions, competitions, and summer programs; gowns and suitable attire for recitals; coaching and teaching lessons; headshots and audition videos.

“In this way, we fill a niche generally not served by opera companies, competitions, and music schools,” says Gibb. “And because we take personal interest in the development of our artists, they come to know that we remain connected with them, cheering them on, providing an audience for their performances, and lending an ear to their challenges and concerns.”

And how do the Buffs’ decide which singers they will support? Mona Lands, director of auditions, explains: “In our annual auditions, we look first and foremost for an extraordinary voice and then musicality, intelligence and musicianship, following in that order. Missing any one of these components makes the possibility of a career in opera almost impossible – just as missing substantial financial assistance also makes the possibility of an opera career almost impossible.”

But the audition decision process relies as much on gut and heart as on ear. Brent McMunn, Performers Showcase director, explains: “While we look for the same qualities that companies and competitions look for – vocal quality, musicality, dramatic skill, and the indefinable quality of charisma – we are not a competition per se.  We have a certain leeway, as we make guesses, both educated and instinctual, about singers who are often at an earlier stage of development, and who need this meaningful support to take the next steps.”

“Bottom line,” says David Alan Gibb, “we offer a support system our singers can count on as they pursue the challenges of building an opera career. Their dreams become our dreams. We’ve assisted 500 singers in reaching those dreams…Now we look forward to assisting the next 500.”

About the Buffs

The Opera Buffs, a long-established force in the musical life of Southern California, is dedicated to supporting emerging opera singers at the crucial juncture — the years of transition from student to professional performer. Since 1983, 500 Southern California-based singers have benefited in the early stages of their careers from the financial and moral support of the nonprofit organization, and from the opportunity to gain paid performance experience.

Singers who have benefitted from direct grants and/or paid performances with the Opera Buffs and who have progressed to major careers include Brian Asawa, Randall Bills, Richard Bernstein, Angel Blue, Robin Buck, Charles Castronovo, Tracy Cox, Danielle De Niese, Michelle DeYoung, Julianna Di Giacomo, Suzanna Guzmán, Greg Fedderly, Jacquelynne Fontaine, Jesús León, Malcolm MacKenzie, Angela Meade, Ronnita Miller, Catherine Naglestadt, Kelley O’Connor, Earle Patriarco, Sondra Radvanovsky, Rodell Rosel, Paula Rasmussen, Jessica Rivera, Stephanie Vlahos, Karen Vuong, and Deborah Voigt.

For more information about the Opera Buffs and its mission to support yet 500 more talented, emerging singers, visit www.operabuffs.org.

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