Mezzo Soprano Victoria Vargas, '08
2008 mezzo soprano alumna shares her musical journey
By Jenna Eckl, ’13
It seems like only yesterday that Victoria Vargas, ’08, set the campus abuzz with her show-stopping performance as the “Witch” in the Hillman Opera’s production of Hansel and Gretel in 2007. Anyone at 2008’s Commencement Ceremonies won’t forget her rendition of The Star Spangled Banner either.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Vargas’ career is off and running. Since 2010, she has been a member of the Minnesota Opera’s Resident Artist Program (RAP) in Minneapolis. This highly competitive program receives over 1,000 resumes annually, auditioning half of the applicants for only a few spots each year. The program includes intense training in language, voice and coaching, as artists perform in main stage roles.
Vargas has quickly made a name for herself in Minneapolis. She won first place in the Metropolitan Opera Council’s Minnesota district competition in 2012 after earning its Encouragement Award the year before – a feat she also accomplished in the Buffalo district during her senior year at Fredonia.
She returned to campus in November to discuss her career to date with vocal performance students. However, her return to Western New York was sparked by an even greater opportunity: the chance to perform Handel’s “Messiah” with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/BPO Chorus at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, N.Y.
Vargas was invited by her undergraduate mentor, Fredonia Choral Activities Director Gerald Gray, who served as a guest conductor for the Dec. 2 performance. She was one of four soloists and was chosen, according to Dr. Gray, for her “great coloratura [the ability to sing a lot of notes quickly], great vocal color, and great artistry.”
She joked with students that some people may describe an opera singer’s lifestyle much like a hypochondriac’s; after all, a simple cold can wreak havoc.
Vargas sees it as much more complicated, however, and shared the skills she has developed with Mason Hall’s up-and-comers, so that they could understand what lies ahead for them.
“We are good at multitasking: pronouncing what we are singing, understanding what someone else is saying, moving around stage and trying to balance out everything,” she explained. “We are also very business savvy, because we have to learn as we go and be our own advocate and agent for awhile, doing self promotion – which is sometimes hectic.”
It’s somewhat surprising that opera was Vargas’ calling, since she came from a family that was not musically inclined. “I don’t even think my mom can sing in key,” this Rome, N.Y., native laughed.
She was never really into sports, but was always drawn to the performing arts, including acting, musical theatre and opera. With a strong and unique voice, she starred in several musicals in high school, but her mentors knew opera would be her place to shine.
Fredonia was an easy choice for Vargas. After she auditioned, she felt an instant connection with the school. “I had the best audition experience,” Victoria said. “Everyone was extremely welcoming. They wanted someone who was willing to work and [they] made that clear to me.”
From that point on, Victoria knew what it would take to be a success. She was well rounded, to say the least. She involved herself with several clubs and organizations, including the Hilman Opera, Student Opera Theatre Association, College Choir, Sigma Alpha Iota and Pride Alliance.
“As a student, I was very hard working,” Vargas said. “I put my studies above everything. They meant the most to me because singing was what I was passionate about, what I wanted to do.”
Gray describes Vargas as “motivated, sensitive, kind and hardworking; a young professional in the making.” As a member of her audition committee, he specifically recalls her amazing voice. “She was a standout and had a sense of personal ‘grounded-ness’ early in her development.”
After her time at Fredonia, Vargas felt the need for a master’s degree, which she earned at the Manhattan School of Music from 2008 to 2010. Undergraduate classes such as diction, which she felt was unimportant at the time, turned out to be extremely important to have under her belt during graduate school.
Today, as a performer, Victoria is grateful for all the opportunities she was given to be on stage at Fredonia – “the foundation of artistry,” as she termed it.
“Practice makes perfect, especially on stage,” she said. “No class will teach you that. Fredonia puts students on stage.”
While teaching a master class to Fredonia’s current students, Vargas felt a rush of Fredonia memories, especially that Commencement national anthem performance, a moment she called surreal.
“After I finished, I remember asking myself, ‘Did I just do that?’” Vargas said. “It was symbolic of my time at Fredonia. Prior to becoming a professional, that was the largest audience I had ever sung in front of.”
Victoria just recently experienced one of her favorite roles, playing the protagonist, “Fenena,” in Nabucco, written by Giuseppe Verdi and based on a Biblical story. She describes her character as “a good person with a good moral compass who did what she believed was right.” She felt a strong connection to the role – that the music “spoke” to her – and was able to make the role her own.
As Vargas has grown as an artist, she feels her voice has as well. As opera singers progress in age, their voices start to settle and she is happy to see that happening. Her languages are also becoming stronger, resulting in much higher self-confidence.
“When you’re on stage full-time, all the time, it definitely eases the nerves,” Victoria agreed with a smile.
The future continues to look bright for Vargas. She has several roles lined up for 2013, including “Mrs. Deakins” in a new opera, Doubt, based on a play of the same title. She will also be the understudy for “Gertrude” in Hamlet. During the summer, she has committed to the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where she will be the understudy for “Ruth” in the operetta, The Pirates of Penzance.
“Take every opportunity to learn and grow,” she advised. “Don’t take your education experiences for granted – classes, campus life and activities… whatever is offered!” Like she says, an opera singer’s life is a balancing act – one which Vargas now has the hang of – thanks, in part, to SUNY Fredonia.