This piece is part of our Performing Arts Guide in the September 2022 print issue of District Fray. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Washington National Opera Cafritz Young Artists.
District Fray: What sparked your love for opera?
Christian Simmons: I love the connection opera makes to our everyday lives that we do not realize. Whether it’s a song heard on a commercial, or a story plot told in a movie, it’s fascinating to learn so much is influenced by opera.
Cecelia McKinley: I think my love of the art form came from my love of singing in general. I started taking voice lessons so I could sing my favorite musical theatre and pop songs, and eventually my high school voice teacher suggested I try something in Italian (“Sebben, crudele” by [Antonio] Caldara, for those interested). I loved the challenge and the feeling of it.
What would you like to see more of in opera?
Simmons: More operas for people who do not have much classical knowledge or a classical background. [This includes] music that isn’t too complex, mixed with popular genres of music that tells regular, everyday stories different from the standard opera traumas and dramas.
McKinley: More equitable opportunities within the industry, both on and offstage, which will hopefully result in more body, gender and racial diversity. Conversations surrounding this have been brewing the past few years. I am very excited for the direction my generation is taking the industry.
What’s your go-to opera to impress newcomers?
Simmons: “Carmen,” because even if you have not seen an opera, the tunes of “Habanera,” “Toreador Song” and “March of the Toreadors” are so popular you’ll likely have heard at least one of them at some point in your lifetime.
McKinley: In all honesty, I will usually go to YouTube and find a clip of a live performance [to give] the full effect of the voice alongside sets, costumes and the theater.