‘Incredibly talented’ teens at Florida Grand Opera camp learn their craft

A Youth Artist Learning Academy dance class with instructor Maria Teresa del Real.
A Youth Artist Learning Academy dance class with instructor Maria Teresa del Real. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Creative minds need year-round outlets for their talent. Luckily, South Florida’s young singers have Florida Grand Opera.

Florida Grand Opera’s Youth Artist Learning Academy is just wrapping up its second annual Opera Boot Camp, which began June 12 and ends Friday with a performance to showcase what the young virtuosos have learned.

“People always worry about the next generation of any of classical music lovers,” said Susan T. Danis, the company’s general director and CEO. “Well here we have kids that are the future of opera, and they’re incredibly talented.”

The Florida Grand Opera is known as one of the oldest organizations in Miami. In 77 years, its stage has been graced with the presence of huge opera stars like Luciano Pavarotti. Now, the company aims to train the new wave of opera talent with its Youth Artist Learning Academy.

Youth Artist Learning Academy student Javmar Perez-Contreres in a costume fitting. Javmar is a very gifted pianist, in addition to being interested in the theater. REBEKAH DIAZ-FANDREI Photo provided to the Miami Herald

The Opera Boot Camp consists of three weeks of intensive training in areas of diction, music appreciation, acting, costuming and stage design, including master classes about vocal health and following the conductor.

“They are actually working with real opera professionals,” said Rebekah Diaz-Fandrei, director of Education and Community Engagement and herself a former opera singer. “Nobody here is a teacher; everyone is an opera singer, a director or a costume designer.”

The camp costs $1,500 to attend, however 14 of the 20 campers are on scholarships or pay discounted fees.

The campers are students from various art, charter and public schools across Miami and Broward. The camp serves as a channel for these students to exercise their passion throughout the summer while still being trained.

“The training is so specialized, it gives each student a really specific focus,” Diaz-Fandrei said. “We know who every kid is, we know what they need and we cater to that.”

The campers are teens from all types of performance backgrounds who have fallen in love with the art of opera.

Noelia Luna, 17, is a student from Robert Morgan Educational Center in Southwest Miami-Dade. A student in the school’s chorus and drama magnet programs, she was solely into musical theater until she saw her first opera. She fell in love with the art and last year decided to attend the Opera Boot Camp.

“I got accepted into the summer camp program last year and the experience was like none other,” said Noelia, who is attending camp for the second time, “A spark just hit me, and ever since then I don’t look at anything but opera.”

Noelia has not only fallen in love with opera through this experience, but also with the camp’s faculty and staff.

“They are guiding us as if we were one of their own in the professional world and they are extremely approachable, which is what makes this camp so special,” she said.

Even though the camp is normally for high school students, the camp could not miss out on the talent of Isabella Alfaro, 13, the only middle schooler to attend this year.

Isabella, a drama magnet student from South Miami Middle, also recently discovered opera and is growing her newfound talent within the camp.

“Opera is a very hard business, and I think it’s wonderful that I’ve had the opportunity to start so early in such a welcoming environment,” Isabella said. “It will be very helpful in the future, whether I choose to go into opera or musical theater.”

Some campers like Isabella are just starting to awaken their interest in opera, while others already have their mind set on a future in the business.

Charles Vega, 18, a recent graduate of New World School of the Arts High School, is pursuing a career in opera. He hopes that the experiences and training he’s receiving from the professionals in this camp will serve as a stepping stone into opera world.

“I love how we get to work with professionals that have sung all over the world,” he said. “It’s just great to meet people who are living our dream and talk to them about how it will be like to get to where they are.”

If you go

The Opera Boot Camp ends Friday night with a performance that will showcase what the campers have learned in the past three weeks.

Each teen has been assigned two to three major scenes and two big group numbers to perform.

Up to 150 people can attend from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Balfe Rehearsal Studio at Florida Grand Opera’s headquarters, 8390 NW 25th St. in Doral. Tickets are $5 each and can be purchased at