Eight young artists to get hands on practical experience with a major opera company.

Seven exciting young singers and a pianist have won this year’s coveted places in Victorian Opera’s Master of Music course. The unique two-year program is delivered in collaboration with the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) at the University of Melbourne.

The students will be in at the deep end this June, taking principal roles in Victorian Opera’s production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. The students also get to be part of the ensemble for other productions throughout the year, with the opportunity to work alongside some of opera’s biggest names, including Lisa Gasteen, José Carbo and Jessica Pratt.

This year’s intake was chosen from an impressive field of over 70 applicants, after a highly competitive selection process. Victorian Opera’s artistic director Richard Mills has praised the winning candidates calling them the “cream of the crop” and pointing out that “none can be pigeonholed into the misconceptions or stereotypes of what an opera singer is.”

The singers for the 2014-2015 program are sopranos Kate Amos and Cristina Russo, mezzos Elizabeth Lewis and Emma Muir-Smith, tenor Michael Petruccelli, and baritones Nathan Lay and Matthew Tng. As well as the seven singers, Simon Bruckard has been chosen to undertake repetiteur training (rehearsal pianist and coach).

Their impressive list of achievements to date reveals a diverse and talented group of performers. Their combined résumé includes international study, success in competitions, as well as various local and national awards and scholarships. A number of the participants have had previous operatic experience, but this program is designed to take their careers to a whole new level.

Previous participants in the Master of Music (Opera Performance) have found the program crucial in gaining further operatic experience and establishing their careers. Soprano Olivia Cranwell, who was part of last year’s foundation group of Opera Performance students, says: “Having a supportive environment such as Victorian Opera – I think it's the most invaluable experience you can have to work in a professional company with professional singers.”

Fellow student Daniel Todd agrees that getting hands-on experience is indispensible: “So much on the job learning happens when you’re actually working for the company”, he said, “You could never get that just in a conservatorium.” The excerpts below are taken from Victorian Opera''s video chronicle of last year's intake:

The program also provides the opportunity for students to learn major operatic roles, as well as perform in various shows throughout the season. Aside from working with Victorian Opera, the young artists will undertake comprehensive studies in language, diction, voice, musicianship and acting.

“We provide them with master classes from people of international repute, and they have coaching with all the music staff and myself – professional guidance, and also professional opportunities – so they’re part of the working life of the company”, says Mills.

It is an intensive two years for the young singers, and the pressure is on to perform – sometimes at a moment’s notice. Olivia Cranwell describes her experience having to step in to another singer’s shoes “I got a call at about 10am one morning, saying the person was sick and “could I come in?” – being thrown into a situation like that was definitely a nerve racking experience, but amazing.”

There’s no time to relax during the rigorous rehearsal schedule ­– these up-and-coming artists are expected to spend at least four hours a day practicing their craft. As previous student, Kirilie Blythman says: “Language, coaching, rehearsals, productions: you have to be prepared to be doing a lot of singing. It can be quite demanding. It can be quite a lot of hard work but its really rewarding and if it’s something you care about then it’s definitely worth doing.”

Fellow student Timothy Reynolds agrees: “It’s a lot of hard work but that’s what the real world is like – you just have to grab it with both hands and go for it.

The Master of Music (Opera Performance) is the first developing artist program in Australia to be held in conjunction with a leading tertiary institution. Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Professor Gary McPherson, said the program offered a pioneering approach to opera training, allowing students to go on to develop “successful international careers”.

The next generation of Australia’s opera stars is clearly in good hands.

Andrew Aronowicz is an 2013 AYO Music Presentation Fellow.