Opera-tunity knocks for Spencer soprano.
SPENCER - Rachel Hippert's quest to perform on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City's Lincoln Center may very well begin this week - hundreds of miles away on the roads of America's heartland.
The 24-year-old Spencer resident will join other young aspiring opera singers and other vocalists from around the country in performing at a series of Iowa concerts, which are sponsored by the prestigious Simon Estes Educational Foundation.
The nonprofit was founded to expand the opportunities for students and young adults by Simon Estes, the famed operatic bass-baritone who has performed before popes, American presidents, and other dignitaries.
The concerts are expected to showcase the vocalist performers' talents, as well as offer the participants a chance to network with those involved with opera.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for me," said Ms. Hippert, a Holy Name graduate who has trained for years to break into the tough opera business.
Ms. Hippert, who graduated in May from the School of Music at Boston University's College of Fine Arts, credits her parents for instilling within her a deep appreciation and love of traditional and classical song.
For example, while other parents may have tuned into radio stations featuring the latest pop and rock hits, Ed and Charlene Hippert preferred listening to Broadway musicals while driving about in the family car.
"My parents wanted to expose us to the world of music," said Ms. Hippert, who will perform on Thursday and Sunday. "They believed that it would help us not only with our academic skills, but with getting a better understanding of life."
She said that her parents, who both performed with the Salisbury Singers, encouraged her and her two siblings to learn how to play a musical instrument.
Ms. Hippert's musical odyssey began with lessons on how to master the piano, the violin, and the flute. But singing was her first love.
She transferred from Notre Dame Academy in Worcester to Holy Name in Worcester, during her junior year, and landed the prized role of Dolly in "Hello, Dolly!"
"It surprised a lot of people because I had just transferred," said Ms. Hippert.
The next year, she played Emily Arden, another leading role, in the musical "State Fair."
"I just loved being on stage, helping to tell a story through my voice," said Ms. Hippert.
She said she learned much from her teacher, Richard Booth.
Ms. Hippert would later work with Mr. Booth when his theater company, Booth Productions, staged the "student version" of "Les Miserables" in 2002. She played Cosette, the orphan adopted by the musical's protagonist, Jean Valjean.
Ms. Hippert thought she would like to perform on Broadway some day, until her sister, Sarah, introduced her to classical music.
At the time, her sister, now studying at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was minoring in music at Bowdoin College.
"I thought my voice was more tuned for the classics. Opera has a more polished sound," she explained.
Ms. Hippert said she wanted to study voice performance in college, "but missed out in the first round."
Instead, she took up English at the University of Hartford for a year, and on weekends would come home to study voice with Jane Shivick.
"My technique was just not up to scratch," she said. "Jane got me on track. She made me more aware of dictum."
A year later, she applied again to a number of performance schools and decided to attend B.U.
While at the school, Ms. Hippert, a voice major, studied with Mr. Estes, a black American who has performed at some of the world's most renowned opera houses.
"A lot of teachers emphasize technique and tell you to follow the rules," she said. "Mr. Estes encourages you to find yourself - to be more expressive."
Ms. Estes noted that opera doesn't always have to be serious and heavy-handed, pointing to "Pride and Promiscuity," an improvised opera that was produced in California last summer
The young performers were asked to pick their favorite arias and the singers constructed a dialogue that tied them all together.
"I played the church skank," she said with a chuckle. "I bedded the priest with an aria from Handel."
Ms. Estes, a soprano, is looking forward to her performances. Her repertoire will include Samuel Barber's "Sure on this Shining Night," an aria from Gaetano Ponizetti's "Elixir of Love," and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might as Well be Spring."
She has been training for the concert series with Peter Hart, a voice teacher from Sturbridge who teaches at Anna Maria College.
Ms. Estes is hoping that her performances in the Midwest will give her career a boost so that she may one day perform in a major show, such as Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme," her favorite opera.
She said she signed as an understudy in a production of "La Boheme" in Florida last summer and ended up with the role of Mimi, the leading female.
"It was great," she said.
CUTLINE: Rachel Hippert of Spencer sings scales with her voice teacher, Peter Hart.
PHOTOG: JOHN FERRARONE