Visiting Soprano Offers Praise and Invaluable Perspective

Opera singer Martina Arroyo visits MSU, holds workshop for 150 students.

Martina Arroyo works with baritone student Kyle White during the workshop at Cook Recital Hall.
Arroyo took time to offer her perspective to students about opera and life as a career vocal artist.
Photos archive: Martina Arroyo’s portrait as Aida. 1965, Giuseppe Verdi’Adia. Photo by Louis Mélançon, Metropolitan Opera Archives.
Arroyo poses with College of Music faculty (L-R): Elden Little, Marc Embree, Richard Fracker, Mark Rucker, Melanie Helton.
Arroyo poses with College of Music students (LR): Rachel Shaughnessy, Angela Lee, Kyle White, Christine Roberts, and Jenna Washburn.

About 150 students from the MSU College of Music received insights on dramatic performance when an eminent American opera star visited campus on the invitation of her longtime friend and colleague, Professor of Voice Mark Rucker.

In March, the spinto soprano Martina Arroyo held a one-day workshop in which she emphasized the importance of vocalists understanding the emotions and motives of characters in an operatic performance. After discussing the value of character research and study, Arroyo listened to individual students sing, and provided feedback on their dramatic technique.

“You can do a lot with singing pretty sounds, but those sounds alone will not communicate what the composer may have intended,” concurs Rucker. “It’s critical to understand who you’re portraying, and what they are communicating—even when you’re singing in another language.”

Rucker was ecstatic when Arroyo agreed to meet, greet and share her knowledge with MSU students. The renowned artist began her opera career in the 1960s when she performed in Carnegie Hall in Pizzetti’s Murder in the Cathedral. Arroyo is considered among the first generation of African-American opera singers to break down racial barriers in opera. Over the years, she went on to conquer the opera world, including more than 200 performances at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as performances at the Vienna State Opera, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, La Scale in Milan, Paris Opera, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and the great concert halls from Salzburg and Berlin and her home town of New York. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a 2013 Kennedy Center Honors and a 2010 Opera Honors Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Arroyo is also a teacher and mentor, having taught at Louisiana State University, University of California Los Angeles and Indiana University, among others. In 2003, she established the non-profit Martina Arroyo Foundation that provides opportunities and tools to young, emerging artists to become professional opera singers.

“The idea that someone of her stature is equally devoted to developing and nurturing new singers is phenomenal,” says Rucker, who has served as an administrator and artistic director of the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s young artist program Prelude to Performance. “She knows the future of opera depends on the infusion of younger people as performers, teachers and supporters of the art form.”

Music Education Senior Angela Lee was among the student vocalists who attended Arroyo’s master class. Lee says that once she got past the disbelief that she was meeting a living legend, she could focus on Arroyo’s message and insights.

“Her genuine heart and passion for music and for us as young musicians was evident immediately,” says Lee. “My biggest takeaway was that being an opera singer demands everything we have to give, and that we must be a complete artist, musician, storyteller, actor and performer in order for opera to truly thrive.”

Lee, who studies with Professor of Voice Jane Bunnell, is among four MSU students who will be participating in the Arroyo Foundation’s young artist program in New York this summer. Doctoral students Zaikuan Song, who studies with Professor of Voice Richard Fracker, Brian Major, a student of Rucker’s, and Jenna Buck, a student of Bunnell’s, will also attend this summer.

Arroyo described her visit to MSU as extraordinary, and said that it was evident from the very first day that College of Music faculty were committed to working together for the benefit of their students.

“There was wonderful camaraderie and warmth,” Arroyo says. “The students emphasized that attitude even more. They were extremely talented, friendly and deeply involved in their work. I really didn’t want to leave and look forward to returning.” 

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