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Article Published: 13 May 2021

Musical Diplomacy

“Our manifesto is to be relevant,” says Julia Lagahuzère, co-founder of Opera for Peace. The network for young singers, which launched in 2019, fosters international connections within the opera world. OFP has brought emerging artists from South Africa, the U.S., Argentina, and elsewhere to the Winter International Arts Festival in Sochi, Russia. It facilitated a three-week residency at Opera Australia for bass William Guanbo Su, a Houston Grand Opera Studio Artist. OFP is establishing a young artist academy in the Middle East and North Africa, bringing in partners from all over the region. All of its efforts are aimed toward taking singers out of the silos of their own conservatories and communities and establishing cross-national and cross-cultural bonds.

In 2019, OFP partnered with The Dallas Opera, providing international singers for the “graduation” concert of the Hart Institute for Women Conductors: an arrangement that gave both singers and conductors valuable collaborative experience. “We paid Opera for Peace an incredibly low fixed fee, then they went to town,” says David Lomelí, TDO’s then-director of artistic administration. “They got us top-of-the-world rising talent.”

OFP provided valuable help to Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director of Chicago Opera Theater, when she was preparing her company’s planned mounting of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Invisible City of Kitezh. (The pandemic prevented the fall 2020 production from taking place.) “It’s a massive opera, and the principal soprano role is particularly difficult to cast,” Yankovskaya explains. Lagahuzère put her in touch with the head of the Bolshoi Opera’s young artist program, who recommended soprano Maria Motolygina for the tough assignment. Not only did she have the rare technical capabilities the role demands, but she would get her preparation at home from Russian-speaking coaches who had intimate knowledge of the rare opera itself.

Yankovskaya and Lagahuzère are now discussing ways to gain overseas exposure for works from COT’s Vanguard Initiative for emerging composers. “I’d like to see young artists in other companies performing works from our composers,” Yankovskaya says. “American operas usually don’t travel abroad, and in the U.S., we seldom get the opportunity to see contemporary works that aren’t American. There are great works being written everywhere, and we should all see them. That kind of cultural exchange can lead to greater understanding and camaraderie.”

“We’re working on the local level and on a global level,” says Lagahuzère. “It’s not just putting people together; it’s understanding what the main themes of the world are today.”

This article was published in the Spring 2021 issue of Opera America Magazine.