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Opera's Rising Star

Barry Armbruster attends Washington National Opera’s Institute for Young Singers.

Barry Armbruster, a senior at Westfield High School, is 17 years old, but his youth may not be quite so apparent when he’s singing.

“He certainly does not have a teenager’s voice,” said Scott Pafumi, the drama director at Westfield High School. “He has a semi-professional voice."

The Cappie-award-winning singer and actor put his talent to the test when he attended the Washington National Opera’s Institute for Young Singers this summer and was selected to perform on The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, along with five others, at the program’s conclusion in mid-July.

“I took away [from the program] a lot of confidence.” Armbruster said. “It really showed me where I stand amongst my peers."

THIS WAS NOT Armbruster’s first experience with opera. In January, he performed in “Marriage of Figaro,” a production of the Fine Arts Ministries, at the Loudoun campus of the Northern Virginia Community College. He also sung a few opera songs with his voice teacher, who has taught him for three years.

“It’s actually become a recent passion of mine,” Armbruster said.

During his three weeks at the institute, Armbruster took a host of diverse classes, such as Italian diction, ear training, opera history and yoga for singers, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., alongside 24 other youth.

“It was wonderful to work with so many talented young people who enjoy the same music I do,” Armbruster said.

Joy Schreier, one of the vocal coaches at the institute, worked with Armbruster on the piece “Malinconia,” by Bellini, which he performed at The Kennedy Center, along with “Non Piu Andrai,” an aria.

“I enjoyed working with him thoroughly,” Schreier said. “He’s quite talented."

Armbruster worked with the performing artist, Elizabeth Bishop, who has sung at the Metropolitan Opera, for his master classes, which include a one-on-one session and another in front of an audience of his colleagues, Schreier said. He also worked on scenes from “Cosi Fan Tutti” and from “Marriage of Figaro."

When he came back from the institute, Pafumi said, Armbruster told him how he was forced to break his bad habits.

“He loves to drink Coke,” Pafumi said. “He drinks four or five of those a day. And at camp, he wasn’t allowed to do that."

A vocalist, Pafumi said, has to mind what he eats and drinks, which can be difficult for the average teenager. Some liquids — such as milk and soda — should only be drunk in moderation or not at all because of their effect on the vocal chords.

Armbruster, who has performed in at least a dozen productions at Westfield High School, according to Pafumi, started his high school theater career in the lead role of a Westfield Summer Stage production, “Snoopy,” in the eighth grade.

“EVER SINCE, he’s continued to be very involved,” Pafumi said.

Barry’s high school drama director describes him as a “very good character actor."

“He’s very good at playing distinguished, high-class or elderly characters,” Pafumi said.

Armbruster’s skillful acting landed him a Cappie for best actor in a musical for his role as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” last spring. The cast also won a Cappie for best musical.

His most recent performance was near the end of July in the Westfield Summer Stage’s production of “Beauty and the Beast,” in which he played the role of Gaston.

Armbruster will be performing with his high school drama director in a four-man show titled “Forever Plaid,” produced by the Westfield Theater Boosters, the last weekend in September. Proceeds will go toward senior scholarships. Centreville resident Jim Mitchell and Kevin Manship, a Westfield high school senior, will also be performing.

“I’m looking forward to having him one more year,” said Pafumi, who has worked with the teenager for five years. “He has a very bold, very strong presence both onstage and off.”

This fall, Armbruster said he is going to apply at some of the major music schools on the East Coast. He hopes to major in opera or musical theater and dreams of becoming a professional entertainer.

“I would love to perform and light up the stages in New York and all over the world, but we all have a dream,” Armbruster said.

Armbruster’s vocal coach is confident he will succeed.

“He’s a young singer who’s going to go far,” Schreier said.