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​Singer Orlando Montalvo practices an opera piece inside RIC’s Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts.

A cursory glance at a poster in one of RIC’s music practice rooms evolved into a six-week experience of a lifetime in France for Orlando Montalvo.

Seeking to advance his opera skills, the sophomore music education and performance major auditioned to study at the Franco American Vocal Academy in Angers, France last spring. Within five days he was accepted into the intensive summer program for budding opera singers.

“When I saw that poster about this program, I thought it was beyond me,’’ said Montalvo, 20. “It turned out to be an amazing opportunity. It made me realize that there is another step that I need to go in opera. I need to analyze music better, understand opera characters to their fullest potential and research the stories behind the opera.‘’

Montalvo’s interest in opera dates back to high school, when he spent his summers at the Music Institute at RIC (MIRIC).

“Opera workshops were part of the curriculum in MIRIC, and that’s where I fell in love with opera,’’ he said. “It’s a very taxing art form that requires discipline and determination, but it’s so rewarding once you’re done with a performance.’’

La Collegiate Saint Martin, the site of Montalvo's opera performances
in Angers, France

At the Franco American Vocal Academy, Montalvo participated in four opera performances of  “La Fille du Tambour-Major’’ (“The Drum Major’s Daughter’’). Created by composer Jacques Offenbach, “La Fille du Tambour-Major” is an “opera comique’’ which contains a mix of spoken dialogue and arias. On a typical day in the program, Montalvo received voice lessons and coaching to prepare for his role, followed by intense French dialogue lessons every afternoon.

“Picking up French was difficult,’’ Montalvo said. “I found myself in situations where I couldn’t communicate at times and that was intimidating. Although I don’t speak French fluently, I was able to portray my opera character well and received many compliments from the audience. So, that was reaffirming.’’

Montalvo performed alongside a company of 28 other students in the opera program.

“Our group included students from Sweden, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada and England but most were from the United States,’’ he said. “We got along very well and accepted each other although we came from different backgrounds culturally and musically. It was a real plus to see how others use their musical abilities and  exchange methods about note-taking and musical cues.’’

RIC Adjunct Professor of Music Don St. Jean, whom Montalvo looks to as a mentor and credits with introducing him to opera, said Montalvo’s future is bright.

“Orlando is the kind of student who is always looking to better himself,’’ St. Jean said. “He has a wonderful, strong and clear voice. There’s no question in my mind he will be a fine professional singer.’’

St. Jean said Montalvo’s venture in France is the type of exposure all RIC students should aspire to obtain.

“This type of opportunity opens your eyes to all possibilities, moreso than if you didn’t have the experience,’’ he said. “This takes you to another level where you can see the bigger picture and measure yourself against other students.’’

Montalvo acknowledged that the program at the Franco American Vocal Academy schooled him about how the opera world operates.

“I found out what it was like to be out in the real world singing for an opera company,’’ he said. “I learned more than I thought I would, but I’m always the type of person who craves more. This was like putting my toes in a pool that I hope to dive into one day.’’