April 24, 2019

MSM Spotlight:
Voice students Brielle Chea (MM ’20) and Laureano Quant (MM ’20)

First year Master’s students Brielle and Laureano are featured cast members in MSM Opera Theatre’s production of Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, April 25–28 in Niedorff-Karpati Hall. This opera is conducted by George Manahan (BM ’73, MM ’76) and directed by Thaddeus Strassberger.

Brielle and Laureano talk about this highly anticipated performance and their individual journeys toward becoming professional opera singers.

Emmeline opens tomorrow! What are you most excited about?

Brielle: When I first heard we were doing Emmeline, I watched a version on YouTube and wondered how we would make it watchable, but as staging began, I realized this would be a fun show to perform. I can’t wait for people to see it! We’re taking a stance on a few serious issues going on in the world right now — it’s a show that really packs a punch.

Laureano: I’m always interested in tackling contemporary music. My background is in composition, so I’m very much into contemporary works, and this opera is an interesting one to take on. As Brielle says, it’s a very realistic story.

Tell us about your characters.

Brielle: I play Mrs. Bass, a woman that Emmeline meets in the early stage of  her life. Mrs. Bass is this sweet older lady who likes to take care of people, and I really care for Emmeline and comfort her in one of her times of need. I found the character to be challenging to perform at first, because a lot of the role sits in the passaggio, which can be hard to navigate, especially for a female singer. Getting it down vocally has been very tricky. Overall, the character has been a real joy to play — in a way she reminds me of my mom.

Laureano: I’m playing Mr. Maguire, who makes the story very thorny. He’s the factory supervisor where Emmeline works as a girl, and I get involved with her. The music is wonderful, but the acting is challenging because Maguire is a complex person. He’s married with children, and he knows he’s doing the wrong thing with this underage girl. He justifies it by saying his marriage isn’t going well, but he doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions. It’s tricky to find a balance between being a sexual predator and a charming family man!

Laureano Quant, Voice (MM ’20) (left) and Brielle Chea, Voice (MM ’20). Photos by Toby Winarto, Viola (BM '19)

What has it been like working with Tobias Picker?

Brielle: He’s been really supportive. He tell us “you guys are doing a great job, I’m loving what you’re doing.” It’s always nice when the composer is there with you, so he can change text and notes when something isn’t fitting properly.

Laureano: This is our updated version of his original opera, and it’s set in a new time period. The original production was set around the time of the civil war, but in our version the first act is set in 1998 and the second act is in the current day.
We’re  working with Tobias and Thaddeus to make sure the text is set in our current time period. This makes it more relatable for the audience, and allows them to connect with the story. Tobias has been updating rhythms and text here and there, and it’s been such a valuable experience.

Brielle: Having Tobias there makes the music feel so much less intimidating. This is one of his masterpieces, and many people say Emmeline is their favorite opera of his. It’s a monumental show and it’s taxing, even in the smaller roles, because we have to humanize our characters and make them three-dimensional. Having the man who wrote the music there in the room with us is an amazing experience.

What is your most important takeaway from the story of Emmeline?

Laureano: Emmeline shows a harsh reality of our everyday struggle. What I’m taking away from this show is that everyone has their own burden, and you have to be sensitive to the burdens of others.

Brielle: My takeaway is that in life, there isn’t always going to be a silver lining or a happy ending. We want to live in a bubble where everything is wrapped in a pretty little bow by the end, but not every story can end that way. So much happens to Emmeline that is very, very dark, and as humans, we tend to push the darkness away. Sometimes you just have to hold a mirror up to it and say, “look there it is!”

MSM has a world class faculty and amazing productions, but even more than that, this School really cares about its students.

Classical Voice, MM '20

Why should people come see the show?

Brielle: It’s a cool story. There aren’t happy moments in this opera, but there are compelling twists and turns in this young girl’s life as she goes from being a teenager to an adult woman. The audience should come just to hear this awesome music!

Laureano: It’s a rarely performed opera and a rarely told story about the human condition. When people think of opera, they think of princesses and love, but in Emmeline we’re talking about average people who can be just as interesting and exciting to watch.

How did you decide you wanted to pursue classical voice as a career?

Laureano: During my undergraduate years I studied composition in Colombia. I really enjoyed singing, so I joined a choir there, and it eventually led to a job in Colombia’s National Opera choir. Suddenly I was winning competitions and being called for more singing jobs than composition ones! It’s not that I wasn’t successful as a composer, but I was starting to become a very prosperous singer. That’s why I decided to pursue my master’s degree here at MSM — to polish my technique and work toward an international career. It feels like destiny is leading me towards singing rather than composition.

Brielle: I grew up singing, and my parents like to tell me that when my mom was pregnant with me, they prayed for a kid who could sing – and out I came! I wasn’t always going to pursue it, but I did enjoy singing in church and in school choir as a hobby. I really wanted to go into medicine and be a doctor, specifically a heart surgeon.
After high school I had a bit of an existential crisis and wanted to take a gap year, but my parents insisted I go to community college. I started going to choir at the college and taking voice workshops and lessons, and from there I fell in love with the idea of singing as a career. Of course I got a lot of “no’s” along the way… One of the first auditions I went to as a classical singer, I was told I wasn’t what they were looking for. One of the other girls auditioning told me, “you know, classical music is for white people,” and that really shocked me. What keeps me going is that I want to tell my story and be an example for other black kids. The arts are meant to be accepting of everyone, but there’s still a level of prejudice in the opera and classical world that I want to combat as much as I can.

Click the image to watch a dress rehearsal teaser of "Emmeline"

Why did you choose to study at Manhattan School of Music?

Laureno: We have so many opportunities here at MSM, from the two fully produced operas a year, to the various ensembles and rehearsals, to the classes with amazing faculty that help us hone our craft. I get to study with one of my favorite singers of all time, James Morris. I have listened to recordings of him performing Wagner, and I can’t believe I get to have him as a teacher now. Dona Vaughn is incredible, her experience as the former director of The Met’s Lindemann program is just invaluable.

Brielle: We hear it all the time, but it’s true! MSM has a world class faculty and amazing productions, but even more than that, this School really cares about its students. I really feel the warmth and supportive environment here, like everyone really wants to improve and succeed. I did not come here with the highest self-esteem, but MSM has helped me believe in myself. I completed my undergrad here and now I’m working towards my master’s, and it’s been an amazing journey.