Gibbs to study opera in Austria

PARKERSBURG – For Kendra Gibbs, a once-in-a-lifetime experience will soon unfold as she heads to Europe to study more about opera at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria.

“I was accepted into their opera studio so there will be weekly vocal lessons with world-renown opera singers, conversational German and diction lessons in German, French, Italian and Russian,” she said. “There will also be master classes with professional opera singers, acting classes and audition training.”

In May, Gibbs graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with a master’s degree in vocal performance. In 2012 she graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio, with an undergraduate degree in music performance. She will be in Austria for six weeks beginning July 4.

From early on Gibbs was involved in vocal music through her high school years at Parkersburg South.

“I was in the choirs at South,” she said. “I studied classical music in high school, but I really wanted to be a gospel singer. I decided to study vocal performance as an undergrad.”

At Belmont one of her instructors told her she had a voice for opera.

“He said you really have a voice for opera; you should peruse that,” he said. “So I started listening to that; he gave me a couple of pieces to learn and I fell in love with it.”

Gibbs said her decision to peruse opera rather than her first choice brought no protests from her family.

“My mom is musical also so she was excited I was going into music,” she said. “She always said she is not a big opera fan but she can appreciate it for what it is.”

While she waits to make her trip to Austria, she is working as a teller at Community Bank.

In February, Gibbs said, she learned she had been accepted to the program. However, she said in addition to her work she has a lot to do to prepare for Austria.

“It’s kind of like the same preparation for the audition,” she said. “They ask you to bring five pieces you feel are your best. A couple of days after arriving they have a hearing where you present the one that is the strongest and then they ask to hear another.”

By doing that, she said they try to pair each singer with the vocal teacher that would be the best for them.

“I still have to practice,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs learned about the American Institute of Musical Studies when she was a graduate student at Belmont.

“They had regional auditions and one was in Nashville,” she said. “One of the requirements was to prepare five operatic arias in various languages. Mine were in English, German, Italian and Czech.”

Each singer presented one of those five they felt was their strongest and then the judges picked the second piece from the list provided.

“With the list that long you better be prepared,” she said.

Gibbs said her favorite language to sing aside from English is German.

“In college we had to take diction classes on how to pronounce different languages,” she said. “My favorite was German.”

Gibbs said the lyrics for the songs are put in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

“Some instructors require writing the IPA beneath the original, but over time you recognize how to pronounce them,” she said.

For her audition Gibbs said she considered her strongest piece to be “To This We Come,” from “The Consul,” by John Gian Carlo Menotti and the aria picked by the judges was “LaMamma Morta,” from “Andrea Chenier” by Umberto Giardano.

“I was actually relieved they picked ‘LaMamma Morta,'” she said. “When I was preparing with my teacher on the songs I should present, we were guessing what they might pick and that was one not a lot of people do; my teacher thought they might pick that one and he was right.”

Gibbs said she also placed the same song on her senior recital as an undergraduate.

For her first performance in Austria, Gibbs plans to use “To This We Come” since it is her favorite and she has won awards with the song.

There is more to be gained at the American Institute of Musical Studies than intensive study, she said.

“I hope for it to be a launching point for my career since I just graduated to make a lot of network connections with professors there and the professional opera singers who might help me connect with opera companies,” she said. “They also have agents come to concerts we’ll present throughout the summer so I’m hoping a contract of some kind comes out of it.”

Gibbs said she hopes her time in Austria will turn into a job in Europe.

“I would like to live in Europe for a while,” she said. “I hope I can get with an opera company over there and live there for a while. If not, I hope it is a stepping stone to young artist programs for opera companies back here in the states.”