A YOUNG ARTIST PROGRAM LIKE NO OTHER
Thus in 2002 under the financial sponsorship of the Cafritz Foundation, Plácido Domingo established the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington Opera, now known as Washington National Opera. In its first year, the Program worked exclusively with singers but now it also includes coach-accompanists, directors, and conductors. Although other opera companies reach out to help young artists, Domingo conjectures that there is no other program like this one.
For one year, with the possibility of extending for an additional year, the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program addresses the financial, nutritional, physical fitness, and artistic development concerns of its participants. This means each participant receives a monthly stipend of $1,900 so he or she does not have to work odd jobs while studying under WNO sponsorship. Those selected also receive a one-time travel and housing allowance of $1500. Being free to concentrate on artistic development is something that Domingo feels strongly about. This program support also means a nutritionist consults monthly with the young artists and an on-staff yoga teacher guides them in the practice of beneficial stretching and strengthening exercises as well as important deep breathing techniques.
With all the basic needs of the young artists covered, the artistic development, under the guidance of WNO staff and world-renowned stars, can proceed without interruption. Jessica Swink, a soprano who entered the program in 2002 and was invited for a second year, said she learned the craft of an opera singer. "What they do is rip you down to remove the unprofessional habits so they can build you back up as a proven professional."
LUMINARIES ASSOCIATED WITH YOUNG ARTISTS
The list of luminaries who give master classes to Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists includes such singers as Roberta Peters, Evelyn Lear, and Thomas Stewart. Cutting-edge artist Baz Luhrmann who directed the 2002 Broadway hit production of Puccini's La Boehme and the wildly popular film Moulin Rouge also lends his experience to Domingo's program. Domingo not only gets his accomplished friends to speak to the young artists, but he also seeks out certain individuals whom he feels would bring special benefits. Where possible, artists associated with current WNO production might also give master classes. However, the core teaching is led by WNO's faculty. Swink particularly mentioned the help she got from Principal Coach Ken Weiss and vocal coach Giovanni Reggioli. Both Weiss and Reggioli have experience in other young artist programs.
A prominent sponsor of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program is First Lady Laura Bush who not only lends her name but also attends public performances by the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists. Additionally, she invites the young artists to perform at the White House.
ACHIEVING THE COMPETITIVE EDGE
How do young artists make themselves competitive for this program? Domingo said, after the application is made, "one simply auditions. I hear them personally." Jessica Swink who was a semi-finalist in the 2001 Operalia competition said Domingo heard her sing at Operalia and invited her then to his WNO young artist program. Since 1993 when this international competition began, Operalia has enjoyed Plácido Domingo's sponsorship and although he does not serve as a judge, he attends the proceedings. As for selection in the WNO young artist program, although all the singers selected for the Young Artist program are exceptionally outstanding singers, Domingo emphasized that not all the artists selected for the Domingo-Cafritz program are at the same level of accomplishment and experience. To be competitive, Swink commented that applicants must learn five famous arias thoroughly and get good private coaching.
YOUNG ARTISTS IN THE LIMELIGHT
Domingo ties his WNO young artist program to the development of new audience for opera. For example, in the 2003-2004 WNO season, young artists performed in Rossini's La Cenerentola for a special family-oriented performance. On the WNO main stage schedule, La Cenerentola , a featured production that starred internationally known Sonia Ganassi, also debuted Korean soprano Hoo-Ryoung Hwang, a graduate of the 2002-2003 Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. When Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists (including those still working in this program) are selected for WNO productions, either as featured performers or understudies, they are paid American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) rates.