One of the main aspects of Carthage’s mission statement is “Inspiring Service.” As artists, students, and teachers, we seek to build connections, inspire a love for learning, and much more through music. The Performing Arts Series (PAS), in its 24th year, provides exceptional performing artists to the southeastern Wisconsin community. Our remarkable lineup of guest artists provide concerts, masterclasses, and educational programming at Carthage and in the broader community.  The series is sponsored in part by the Racine Community Foundation. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many artists on the series were postponed.  We were grateful to hear that Carthage Alumnus Nicholas Huff ’15 was interested in a collaboration with The Kenosha Opera Festival and Carthage Music Department’s Opera Workshop to create a family friendly program titled “Emoji Goes to the Opera.” This program is designed to introduce children to opera in a way that they can understand and enjoy. I talked with Nicholas Huff about the program, his experiences at Carthage, and how the Kenosha Opera Festival plans on further implementing Carthage College’s mission into their programs.

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News

Chatting About Opera with Nicholas Huff ’15

  • Nicholas Huff '15

By William Dowell ’22

May 11, 2021

One of the main aspects of Carthage’s mission statement is “Inspiring Service.” As artists, students, and teachers, we seek to build connections, inspire a love for learning, and much more through music. The Performing Arts Series (PAS), in its 24th year, provides exceptional performing artists to the southeastern Wisconsin community. Our remarkable lineup of guest artists provide concerts, masterclasses, and educational programming at Carthage and in the broader community.  The series is sponsored in part by the Racine Community Foundation

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many artists on the series were postponed.  We were grateful to hear that Carthage Alumnus Nicholas Huff ’15 was interested in a collaboration with The Kenosha Opera Festival and Carthage Music Department’s Opera Workshop to create a family friendly program titled “Emoji Goes to the Opera.” This program is designed to introduce children to opera in a way that they can understand and enjoy. I talked with Nicholas Huff about the program, his experiences at Carthage, and how the Kenosha Opera Festival plans on further implementing Carthage College’s mission into their programs.

How did the Outreach Program “Emoji Goes to the Opera” get started?

It all started when Dr. Corinne Ness reached out to us and wanted to know if we were interested in partnering with Carthage for an outreach program, which of course we were! It has been a great partnership between Carthage and the Kenosha Opera Festival. Gregory Berg is the music director and Allison Hull is stage directing the show.  With their background and expertise, alongside our professional opera singers, we’ve been able to work together, give professional experience to the Carthage students, and combine our different ideas to create a family friendly show. It has been a really nice wedding of the two organizations.

How has it been creating a program for children who likely do not have experience with opera or classical music in general?

When you do children’s opera like this, you have to find a way for them to access it. You’re always looking for a way for people to access art, because everybody is used to Star Wars, Marvel, and Hollywood entertainment. You have to show them that they can relate to what you’re doing as well. We found a really cute hook in our creative meetings. It is “Emoji Goes to the Opera” and the idea is to use emojis to describe the feelings of what is happening on stage. The title is pretty clear and makes the concept easy to wrap your head around and I think this is something children will be able to latch on to and enjoy. We are bringing them through some of the hits of opera. We have one aria that is happy, one that is sad, one that is scary—it’s a witch—one that is frantic, etc., so we have a different emoji for each one. The kids get to match which emoji goes with which scene, which is great as it allows them to actively participate. They’re investing in what is going on on-stage, so I think it is a really good hook to get kids to start seeing opera as another piece of entertainment to enjoy. We’ve been talking about Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer in our creative meetings and in the same vein as those shows, we are playing to a camera.

Our outreach program with a Racine County School will be over a Zoom. Being virtual does have its challenges.  We won’t be interacting with a live audience, and the audience we do interact with will likely be a teacher sending us the kids’ questions online. It is really interesting because we will say “What emoji is this aria?” pause, and then say “That’s right, nervous.” It’s fun and interesting learning to play to a camera, especially through the lens of children’s opera. 

Is there a specific aria that you are looking forward to showing the kids?

Yeah. There are ones that people, especially children may know. Some of these arias have appeared in cartoons, like “Largo al factotum” in Barber of Seville—the “Figaro, Figaro Figaro” aria—that everyone knows from Bugs Bunny, as well as some great choices for kids like a scene from The Magic Flute.” We also have some more mature works such as Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon,” which is mature in the sense that she is very sad and it is a slow ballad. They will not have to listen to the whole thing and we are not going to try to keep their attention for the whole time, but I am proud that we are going to expose them to music that is complicated and gorgeous. We will give them the tools to access this music instead of playing to the lowest common denominator with only silly pieces. The program will have silly pieces, but will also showcase a wide range of emotions and a huge swath of repertoire. Rusalka will definitely be a highlight.

How has it been growing up in Kenosha and now giving back through this program, Opera ‘Round K-Town, and the Fellowship Program?

It is great. I never make bones about the fact that we are an opera company. We are a nonprofit and community oriented, but we are here to make opera. However, I think that we have found a way to walk and chew. We are here to make awesome opera, but we try to do that in a way that includes people who may not have been able to access opera before. For example, take young artists and our Fellowship Program. In music, there is often a charge for your first professional experience and I think that is a problem. It is already expensive enough to be a freelancer in any field. Whether you are singing or putting up dry-wall, if you are freelancing, you are taking on a financial risk. I think it is too bad that some of the kids’ first experience working with professionals in the industry is for a fee. We wanted to eliminate that from our program and we have been fortunate that there are resources that will help with that. The Aspire Center worked with us to make sure that they understood what we are doing with the fellows and our marketing intern and what the outcome would be so they could support those kinds of missions, financially, as well as other ways. We’ve identified a whole group of individual grants for artists which the Fellows can benefit from. Some of them may not quit their jobs, but I hope this will free them up to focus on a professional opportunity. Without taking on a lot of overhead ourselves, we are bringing them to a professional production. Some of the wonderful people who are working on our main production are world-class, international artists. I am really excited to share these experiences with young artists from Wisconsin or artists that go to Wisconsin schools and give them a leg up. Those first entries on your resume are so huge and we want to help them with that. It is not charity; it is a cool synthesis of everything we do. I joke about the corporate word “synergy” which sounds soulless, but we have something like that. It is nice to be able to cross-pollinate in a way that creates opportunities for people.

How have your experiences as a Carthage student influenced your career?

Leaving Carthage and entering the professional world showed how stark of a difference it can be, especially with the audition process and life as a freelancer. Looking back at Carthage, it was like a unicorn, full of opportunity. For instance, there is student work with a lot of different jobs, and I was really fortunate that I was able to brand and market the opera at Carthage. We went from doing opera every now and then to regularly scheduled operas, and it was my job to brand it and turn it into a thing. That was the first time I branded a company and it was really cool. It was a safe place where I could learn those skills and that set me off in a bunch of different directions like graphic design, video editing, marketing, and much more. I probably wouldn’t have started this festival without that experience because it is so overwhelming to start a new company. I doubt that I would be able to know what I would need to do or who I would need to bring on without my experiences at Carthage. For example, the first person I brought on when I started getting serious about this festival was a friend of mine from my grad year at Carthage, Kaila Bingen ’15, M.M ’20. Her and her husband moved back to Kenosha by chance and I thought it was perfect because Kaila has a whole lot of skills we were going to need, and I knew we could work well together to get the festival up and running. Beyond the management side of things, Carthage gave me my first operatic roles, which is something you don’t usually get at a larger school. If you are an undergraduate at Jacob’s School of Music or Julliard, you may not get the roles we got. It is a special place where you get a lot of opportunities to both fail and succeed safely that can lead directly to things like starting this company.

Has there been a faculty member that has had a profound impact on you and your career?

There are a bunch! I want to re-spin your question because there are a bunch of faculty that have had a huge impact on me. I will say that probably Dr. Eduardo Garcia-Novelli was one of the first people to recognize me as an artist. He brought me into the Carthage Choir and set me up with Professor Gregory Berg. Prof. Berg was my voice teacher since my senior year in high school and while I have had other voice teachers after Carthage, I always try to make time to work with him because I love him. He is like family. Those two were huge influences but there are so many more. Dr. Dimitri Shapovalov was a family friend and a wonderful professor. He saved my butt in Aural Skills through his teaching. There were also a bunch of amazing faculty outside the department. I love philosophy so I basically tried to shoehorn in philosophy courses whenever I could while sticking to my graduation plan. Prof. Dan Magurshak and all the other folks in the Philosophy Department were wonderful. It is a rare thing to have an experience that was pretty much all positive, but I can say that about Carthage.

What advice do you have for current Carthage students?

So this question comes up a lot when you give masterclasses or any time you interact with college-age students who are thinking about their futures. It is tempting a lot of the time for people in that situation to be inspirational and I think there is a lot of good reason to be, but I prefer to counterbalance that by giving nuts-and-bolts advice. Save your money. If you want to be a freelance performer, start thinking about what that means. You will want to learn a lot about taxes and other boring things because they are really important. The sooner you understand how those things work, the easier your life is going to be. It won’t be April 14th and you won’t be like “Ah! I don’t know how to do 1099s.” Just imagine yourself where you want to be and be inspired, then think about how you are going to get there. Think about how you can create opportunities for yourself and achieve those little bureaucratic goals along the way. Be realistic because as artists we are often inspired, but you also have to be a business person.

Is there anything else you want to share with the Carthage community?

Join us from home on Sunday, May 16 at 3 p.m., for the Opera ‘Round K-Town concert where we’ll talk about what we did for the kids and why children’s outreach is so important, and expand the excerpts from the children’s program so you can hear the full arias. It will be a lot of fun for everyone in the family.”

The Kenosha Opera Festival will also have another children’s program this summer titled Birds of a Feather. This is a Gregory Berg original. It has been performed at Carthage and now we are going to do it for the Kenosha public on July 23. If you come see “Emoji Goes to the Opera” and like that, go see Birds of a Feather.

We will be running the Kenosha Opera Festival during the last week of July and the first week of August. Parents, if you take your kid to one of our children’s programs and you think it’s fun, come see our more adult opera, La fille du régiment, on August 6 and 7. We also have plenty of recitals and other fun things this summer, so check out our website www.kenoshaoperafestival.com. We hope we see you enjoying our music this summer!

 

Opera ‘Round K-Town

Sunday, May 16 at 3 p.m.  |  A. F. Siebert Chapel

Seating is limited, and tickets required in advance

Get Tickets 24/7 www.carthage.edu/tickets

Live Stream: www.carthage.edu/multimedia