Three local students develop taste for opera

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2011

By David Vitrano


NEW ORLEANS – A survey of typical teen interests probably would not rank opera very high on that list, but the students who attend the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts are anything but typical teenagers.

Having to commute from their base schools daily and sitting in classes long after their peers have gone home for the day, these students show a level of dedication not usually associated with people in their age range. For their efforts, however, these students get to show off their talents in end-of-the-year shows that highlight their talents and the progress they have made throughout the school year.

One of these shows, the annual vocal track showcase “A Taste of Opera,” features three local students who have decided to forego the usual trappings of high school and instead followed their own path.

Kathleen “Gracie” Millet, a freshman at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace, is finishing up her first year at NOCCA and is eager to follow in the footsteps of her friend Jordan Keller, who finished her NOCCA education last year.

“I came to ‘A Taste of Opera’ last year, and I decided I needed to do that,” said Millet. “It was kind of my ‘a-ha’ moment.”

Millet got her start on the stage at St. John Theatre, appearing in the musicals “Peter Pan,” “Oklahoma,” “Jekyll and Hyde,” “All Shook Up” and “The Music Man.”

The daughter of Kevin and Greer Millet of LaPlace, Millet is still trying to find her exact niche.

“Right now, conservatories are looking so nice,” she said, but admitted, “I’m just a little 14-year-old right now. My mind is very jumpy.”

The seed for Millet’s interest in opera was planted when she was a fourth-grader and went to a vocal teacher in Vacherie.

“She gave me my first Italian song,” she said.

“At first it was kind of frustrating because I couldn’t get the diction,” she admitted.

Ultimately, however, it was the allure of singing in a foreign language that hooked her.

In the vocal track at NOCCA, she gets her share of foreign-language songs to sing, but the instructors there make sure the songs become more than just a set of sounds. The students must do multiple translations of the songs and learn about the composer.

“So I understand my stuff here,” said Millet.

Millet said she is looking forward to her future at NOCCA, a future that will hopefully be filled with bigger and bigger parts for the aspiring opera singer.

Alexa Romero, a freshman at Destrehan High School who is also in her first year at NOCCA, shares Millet’s dreams.

“Next year I should get bigger parts,” she said.

Romero got her start just pretending to sing opera.

“I did a lot of making up my own words,” she said.

Eventually, her made-up singing turned into a very real interest in opera.

Romero, the daughter of Monique and Mario Romero of Destrehan, learned very quickly, however, that her time at NOCCA would consist of much more than just making beautiful sounds with her voice.

“It took a while to get used to everything,” said Romero. “Theory kicked my butt.”

She eventually overcame those early hurdles and now has her sights set firmly on the future.

Romero said she would like to pursue a career as an opera singer but knows to keep everything in perspective.

“I would like to get that far,” she said.

For the time being, however, she has kept her expectations a little lower. She knows she still has much to learn during her time at NOCCA.

“I think it will help my voice to come out because I have a lot of problems bringing my voice out,” she said.

Romero need look no further than fellow Wildcat Vivian Buchanan for an example of the progress that can be made at NOCCA, even in just one year.

Buchanan, a junior at Destrehan High School, is now in her second year at NOCCA. She said she has definitely noticed her progress since her inaugural year.

“I’ve come a long way,” she said. “My voice has gotten a lot bigger.”

The journey has been one of self-discovery for Buchanan, who entered the program as a soprano but now is a mezzo.

“You figure out who you really are as a singer,” she said.

The time has also cemented Buchanan’s future plans, which even during her first year at NOCCA included pursuing a career in finance. But somewhere along the way she had a revelation.

Buchanan, the daughter of Tammy and Billy Buchanan of St. Rose, said, “You should make a profession out of what you do in your spare time.”

Buchanan’s newfound focus has not been lost on her instructors at NOCCA, who have rewarded her with increasingly bigger roles.

Now looking at continuing her education at a conservatory, Buchanan said, “After two years, I listen to some big opera voices, and I’m like, ‘I want that.’”

The students will perform “A Taste of Opera” this weekend, April 8-9, in Lupin Hall on NOCCA’s campus at 2800 Chartres St. in New Orleans. Both performances are at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

For more information on the show or NOCCA in general, visit