A new opera studio, Mascarade Opera Studio, launching in Florence in September 2020, will put sports psychology at the heart of its nine-month programme for emerging professional opera singers. Studio Director Dr Ralph Strehle, a performance coach at the National Opera Studio and Associate Head of Vocal Performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, will apply Premier League sports training techniques – motivation, concentration and pre-and post-performance routines – to its ground-breaking opera programme.
The New Generation Festival, co-founded by Maximilian Fane, Roger Granville and Frankie Parham, has developed Mascarade Opera Studio to be held in the historic Palazzo Corsini al Prato in Florence starting in September 2020. Calling for applications from ambitious opera talent from all over the world, Mascarade Opera Studio will offer a carefully designed high-ability, nine-month training programme for eight singers and two répétiteurs.
Beyond the nine-month training programme, Studio Artists will become part of the international New Generation Festival network with all its connections and career opportunities. Places on the programme for singers and répétiteurs will be fully funded.
The Studio will benefit from the support and expertise of two major operatic leaders: legendary Italian soprano Mariella Devia as Honorary President and world-renowned English baritone Sir Thomas Allen as Honorary Patron. Mascarade Opera Studio has appointed a full Artistic Advisory Board and already secured visiting staff for the first year of the programme.
Sports psychology training
Psychological performance skills training constitutes a core pillar of MOS' training provision, particularly performance tracking and evaluation, as well as resilience and assertiveness training. Fostering resilience, often misunderstood as 'bouncing back', is to enable psychological flexibility - to take risks, to be adventurous and to have an open mind.
As Dr Ralph Strehle explains: "Joining MOS means you are joining an elite team. Think Scuderia Ferrari. Team cohesion is as important in a music ensemble, as it is in a football team. Whilst we respect knowledge and expertise, we reject the classic 1:1 master-apprentice model at this level. We are interested in information flow, in a model of communication where artistic ideas can be exchanged and discussed freely between staff and studio artists. It is about creating good habits."
The psychological skills training programme has been borrowed and adapted from sports psychology. Designed to the individual Studio Artist's needs, these may include anxiety control, self-confidence, mental toughness, emotional control, attention control, work ethic, optimism, competitiveness, and more.
The psychological methods used to strengthen these skills are goal setting, imagery training, attention control training, stress inoculation and relaxation training. Particular attention will be given to the audition process: pre-performance, performance and post-performance routines. Feedback will be sought, for example, in the form of self-assessments, self-reports and video analysis.
Team cohesion will be fundamental for achieving these goals. MOS aims for the Studio Artists to see themselves as part of a team rather than as a disorganised collection of individuals. In order to achieve task cohesion and social cohesion, they will aim to reconcile group outcomes with individual outcomes.
MOS will offer extensive career management training covering areas such as presentation skills, communication skills, non-verbal communication, virtual communication, networking, time management, influencing skills, conflict resolution, networking, social media.
Artistic advisory board
The artistic advisory board includes BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Finalist Anush Hovhannisyan, leading Wagnerian soprano Susan Bullock, conductors Jessica Cottis and Jonathon Santagada, vocal coaches Jonathan Papp and Carmen Santoro. Further direction comes from Christophe Boehmke (International Opera Studio at Hamburg State Opera) alongside Samantha McShane, Head of Artistic Planning at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Claudia Assmann, press and media expert.
The artistic advisory board will take an active role in curating the programme and promoting the studio's international interests. MOS feels strongly that women are under-represented in key roles in the opera and music industry. Over half of the members of the artistic advisory board are women.
Maximilian Fane, Mascarade Opera Studio Chief Executive, commented: "Florence - the birth place of opera - is the ideal place for an opera training Renaissance. Training at MOS will culminate in performance showcases staged with orchestra and a variety of other selected performance opportunities. The aim of our programme is not just to prepare young and exceptionally talented opera singers and répétiteurs for major careers in opera. We want to re-evaluate opera training and the function of opera in society."
The total 6-year investment is €2,500,000, with €25,735 per year to be invested into each participant directly. With plans to increase the number of studio places to 16 by 2024, this is a total of €1,750,000 invested directly into Studio Artists.