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Ashburn Teen Hits High Note

Christine Coogle takes part in Washington National Opera’s Opera Institute.

Two years after beginning voice lessons, many young singers are preparing for their school’s recital or musical, but this summer 16-year-old Christine Coogle was preparing for something much bigger: a Kennedy Center stage. Coogle was one of six teenagers from across the United States and Canada selected to sing an Italian art song at the famed center’s Millennium Stage, Monday, July 16.

"It was really exciting," Coogle said. "I’d never performed on a stage like that before."

The Kennedy Center performance was the culmination of the three-week Opera Institute held by the Washington National Opera, where 28 singers were immersed into the world of opera, learning both the genre’s history and technique.

"The goal of the program is to educate young singers about opera," Susy Slingland, one of the program’s voice coaches, said. "It’s to prepare them for the future."

COOGLE AUDITIONED for the summer program by video in February, after hearing about it from her voice teacher at the Shenandoah Conservatory, Janette Ogg.

"She’s just extremely talented," Ogg said of Coogle. "I like to expose my students to as much musically as possible."

Ogg said it is important for singers like Coogle to get exposure to the professional world of singing as much as possible.

"It gives them an opportunity to hone their craft," she said. "To really learn new repertoire and to be exposed to all genres of music."

Knowing nothing about opera when she started at the Opera Institute, Coogle soon found herself in classes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., learning everything from Italian diction and sight singing to movement and yoga for singers.

"I really went into something I had no background in," Coogle said.

Slingland said the classes are an important aspect to helping young singers fully develop their craft.

"We want to point them in the right direction and to prepare them for their college auditions," she said.

IN ADDITION to daily classes, Coogle and the other participants spent several hours working with the institute’s six different voice coaches, working on their assigned opera scenes. Coogle played Suzanna in a scene from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" with two other students.

"The scene was really fun," Coogle said. "It was good to be exposed to something so new to me and learn about how to do it."

Coogle, a soprano, was then chosen to be one of four soloists at the Kennedy Center, where she sang the Italian art song, "Le Violette."

"It was really exciting because I got to debut my high C," she said.

While working in the opera genre, Slingland said it is important for teenage singers to choose songs that are appropriate for the age of their voice, normally art songs or more difficult arias.

"Young singers with a great amount of talent sometimes push their voices," she said. "They’re used to hearing big opera stars singing [arias] and they try to emulate them."

COOGLE FIRST BEGAN singing at Belmont Ridge Middle School when she auditioned for "Fiddler on the Roof." After being cast as Chava, one of the play’s leads, Coogle decided to join the school’s chorus.

"I had always really liked music," she said. "I remember going to my sister’s in the shows, but I never really thought about it seriously until middle school."

Since starting with Ogg two years ago, Coogle said she has seen her voice mature and her range improve. Through Ogg, Coogle also took part in the National Association of Teachers of Singing’s competition in both the classical and musical theater categories. This year, Coogle won first place in the classical category for the Mid-Atlantic region and second in musical theater in the state competition.

"It’s a really good competition because voice teachers judge it," she said. "It’s really good to get constructive criticism from them.

While Coogle is not sure what she wants to do with her singing in the future, she plans to become a vocal performance major in college and plans to start visiting colleges this year.

"I definitely want to pursue music," she said. "I love it."