Opera Australia Blog

Young Artist Program: A new generation of singers

Former Young Artist Sam Roberts-Smith will tour with Oz Opera next year in The Magic Flute.

Former Young Artist Sam Roberts-Smith will tour with Oz Opera next year in The Magic Flute.

“I don’t think you choose opera. If it’s meant to be, it chooses you,” believes Sam Roberts-Smith. Fresh from two years with the Opera Australia Young Artist Program, Roberts-Smith is reflecting on a significant period which saw him transition from being a baritone to a tenor, tour an opera all around the country (twice!) and learn some of the physical skills required to forge a career in the opera industry.

“Opera Australia had never had someone join the Young Artist Program while transitioning voice types, but it turned out to be a safe and supportive environment to explore the challenge which lay ahead,” says Roberts-Smith. “It gave me space to explore what kind of artist I wanted to be.”

Opera Australia’s robust Young Artist Program has been a core part of the company’s culture since its inception in 1984, and more than 100 artists (including some who are now household names) have been through the two-year traineeship.

Natalie Aroyan is midway through her two years, and without the program, she says it would be hard for young singers to gain a foothold in the increasingly competitive industry.

“There is only so much you can learn in a classroom,” she says. “The next step of developing your artistry as a performer can only come from learning the actual stage itself, from putting all your cards on the table and surfing the wave of beautiful music while simultaneously emoting to the audience the drama of the story.”

When Aroyan was first asked to put her “cards on the table”, it was to perform her dream role. “I was fortunate enough to make my professional debut with my dream role, Mimi from La bohème and jumped right in the deep end. It was the most exhilarating moment of my life and I was gleaming with excitement when I took my first steps onto the Sydney Opera House stage.”

While structured classes in stage combat, movement, language and vocal training are tailored to each student during the program, the artists also learn just from being around some of Australia’s best operatic talent.

“You get to look into the life of a singer in this genre of music, and to see what it takes on a day to day basis to maintain and develop a certain calibre of singing,” explains Jonathan Abernethy, who is midway through the Young Artist Program.

“Even listening to other artists on stage has an impact.”“After my short role in Il Trovatore was finished last year, I’d sit behind the proscenium arch and listen to Leonora sing the most incredible aria as she poisons herself, followed by an incredible duet with Count di Luna,” Abernethy says. “I’d get swept up in it everytime. I revelled in those moments.”

Anna Dowsley will join the Young Artist Program next year and make her stage debut with the company in The Turk in Italy. “Making the transition from student to young professional is a very daunting period. So it’s very exciting to read your name in the Opera Australia brochure! The Young Artist Program provides this bridge in a nurtured environment – you are still learning but you get to do it within very tangible performance experiences. Which is where the true training happens!”

We need your support! Even a small gift can help train our young artists with a language lesson or vocal coaching session. If you’d like to give to the young artist program, click here to read a little about it.


You can also see our Young Artists perform in the 2014 summer season.

Catch Jonathan Abernethy playing Prince Tamino in The Magic Flute.

Natalie Aroyan will reprise her acclaimed Mimi in La bohème.

Anna Dowsley will sing Zaida in The Turk in Italy.


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