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“A One-in-Several-Million Chance:” World-Renowned Opera Singer Delivers Vocal Master Class to ODU Students

By Jonah Grinkewitz

Imagine being a young quarterback, and Tom Brady steps off the sidelines to give you tips on improving your passing technique after the game.

That's what it felt like for Old Dominion University vocal students when they performed on stage for world-renowned opera singer Ryan Speedo Green this month.

Green, a Suffolk native and Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone, delivered a vocal masterclass for Diehn School of Music students in ODU's Chandler Recital Hall on Jan. 13.

"This is definitely a one-in-several-million chance that I didn't have to pay for," said Victoria Magnusson, a recent graduate in vocal performance.

She said thousands of people typically apply for opportunities to work with singers like Green, who just completed his 100th performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

Green was in town to perform with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Norfolk State University Concert Choir at the Ferguson Center for the Arts and Chrysler Hall. ODU Opera arranged to have him conduct the master class between performances.

Green actually began his singing career on the ODU campus while attending the Governor's School for the Arts in Norfolk, which housed its vocal program in the Diehn Center for the Performing Arts.

On the same stage where he found his own voice, Green shared valuable feedback with students that will help them succeed in the competitive field of opera singing.

Like when David Whyte, a junior pursuing a bachelor of music degree, gave a somewhat rigid performance of "Madamina, il catalogo è questo," a humorous piece from "Don Giovanni."

"This is the type of piece, since it's 5 to 6 minutes long, that if you don't give the physical interpretation of what's going on to the audience, then you're going to lose them," Green said.

With a little coaching, Whyte turned in a much more engaging performance that had the audience of students and faculty roaring with applause.

"As you get further in the classical music world, criticism becomes less constructive and more critical," Green said. "So how you treat a singer when they're young and beginning can really affect how they pursue and how they see themselves in the future."

Green grew up in a trailer park in Suffolk and ended up in juvenile detention at the age of 12. With the help of dedicated teachers, he discovered a passion and talent for singing.

Brian Nedvin, an associate professor in the Diehn School and director of the opera program, said he hoped Green's story would inspire students with similar backgrounds.

"I hope they realize that with hard work, and luck, they can dream big. They can dream to sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera House and every other major house in the world," he said. "I hope they are encouraged, challenged and inspired to be the best version of themselves that they can be."

The master class left a strong impression on Sophia Wilson, a junior studying sound recording technology.

She said she was excited to see a Black artist leading the workshop: "It was a great experience to see somebody of my color leading the way, giving us tricks and tools to use."

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