by Diego Barcacel Peña and Gary Axelbank
June 25, 2018
No microphone, no speakers, just powerful operatic sound from their vocal cords. The voices of Bronx natives Linda Collazo and John Kim filled the rehearsal room at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College last week as they practiced for their upcoming performance (July 13) in the opera ‘Falstaff’ by Giuseppe Verdi.
Kim will play Bardolfo and Collazo is a cover for Meg Page.
Both singers are enrolled in the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance Program which is an intensive operatic boot camp for young artists. The foundation was created in 2003 (the program began in 2005) by world renowned soprano Martina Arroyo, who, according to her private website, gave celebrated renditions of famous operas through the 50s and 60s with the goal of providing new generations of emerging artists with the tools to pursue careers in opera.
Prior to this peformance of Falstaff, the 22 year-old Collazo starred as Dina in Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Trouble in Tahiti’ and Cherubino in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ at Queens College. She is a mezzo soprano, a rich voice type not common in women, who appreciates being part of the Foundation’s program.
“Here you get so many opportunities to learn from really well-known and established people in opera. It’s a growth training that you really can’t get elsewhere unless you have a lot of money.”
Raised in the south Bronx, her mother put her in art and music classes where she learned to play bass guitar and saxophone and fell in love with the piano. She played bass and piano for bands at the The Point community center in Hunts Point.
“I sort of sang there,” said Collazo, referring to those early days, “but I was extremely shy and though I still wanted the spotlight, I was too afraid to go after it. I was very self-conscious.”
Ultimately she got over it and auditioned and got accepted as an art, piano, and voice student at Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. One semester she learned about Italian art songs, which fueled her interest in singing opera.
“I think I loved singing and though I wasn’t necessarily in love with opera yet, I enjoyed singing in an ensemble. Eventually I grew to love singing by myself and then opera.”
Kim, who lived in Bedford Park for the first ten years of his life and is now 28-years-old, is a tenor who has performed as Le Remendado in Georges Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ for the Opera Breve, covered Pedrillo in Mozart’s ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ for the Bronx Opera House. He too, values the Arroyo program.
“It was a goal of mine to be in a program as prestigious as the Martina Arroyo Foundation, and the fact that I am able to do that is a blessing.”
During his adolescence his family moved to Connecticut, where his parents wanted him to develop musically, so he took voice lessons at Norwalk High School and eventually went to Brooklyn College for voice and opera.
Soon he quit opera for a year because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it, but then he rekindled his passion after a friend invited him to sing in Spain. It was there that he figuratively and literally found his voice.
“There was a moment on stage, when all of a sudden there was a light on me and time stopped,” he said. “That was when I knew that this [opera] was what I wanted to do. It wasn’t just a hobby for me anymore.”
Both of these singers see this moment in time as a launch pad for their careers. Collazo hopes to sing around the world and revolutionize opera by reaching new audiences, but she also hopes to have impact on her Bronx community.
“I really hope to get the opportunity to give back to the south Bronx with my art, hopefully by teaching or performing for schools,” she said.
She acknolwedges, though, that a Bronxite singing opera is rare.
“My friends are intrigued by it,” said the mezzo soprano. “When I tell Bronx people I’m an opera singer they’re like ‘Really? You’re the first opera singer I’ve ever met!’”
The Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance Program is free for those who are really dedicated and features classes in the history and importance of opera, as well as rigorous rehearsals and staging of performances. Its alums have gone to perform in many opera houses around the world, including the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London, the Vienna Volksoper in Austria, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.