SMC's best singers apply their musical talents to Opera Club

The Opera Club members traded glances, and chuckled nervously. They weren’t discouraged though. They continued to go about their business.

As they seemed almost ready to perform, the DJ played a particularly bassy remix of “Hello” by Adele, maybe the most popular song of the last ten years. Club President Julio Santizo stepped up to the microphone and introduced himself, his club and their performance. He did this about five more times before the performance actually started.

Once the club members began to sing, none of this seemed to matter. The false starts, the DJ’s music, and the various distractions of other clubs faded away. It wasn’t the best performance they would ever have — I don’t think SMC’s quad is competition for the Sydney Opera House, acoustically speaking — but they drew the attention of many students through just how different they were from, not just the competing music, but the competing clubs as well.

This is the key attribute of the SMC Opera Club, a club populated mostly by members of the Applied Music program, which was co-founded by Club President Julio Santizo three years ago — their unique talent makes them distinctly noticeable.

In their club meeting, every Thursday in room 115 at the Performing Arts Campus, they’re much more in their element, but remain just as unique.

In front of a piano, a formally dressed Marcia De Vere — in her second semester with the Opera Club — performed a song from “La bohème,” an opera by Giacomo Puccini. She didn't behave like it was a rehearsal in a classroom populated by seven other people. She performed like she was on stage, her face falling into a smile whenever she paused.

“I got started with contemporary [music] and musicals like ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ And to me, I thought that was opera, even though my mother used to have these Maria Callas and Placido Domingo recordings,” said De Vere. “I never thought I could sing that. I only thought I could hear it. Then I started with 'The Phantom of the Opera’ and I thought, 'Okay, I can do this. I can sing a little opera.’”

Chinatsu Kiyama (right) rehearses during an Opera Club meeting “You just get to put so much of your emotion into it. It just really calls to me,” said Courtney Marsh-Ankerfelt, who will be taking over public relations for the club in the fall. “You have to work really hard, and I'm a hard worker.”

“The technicality of the music itself... there's a lot more things going on [than most music]. There is definitely a different beauty in it,” said Tomas Juarez, who will be club president come next semester.

After helping to bring the program to life, Santizo has now been president of the club for two years. At the end of their meeting, he realized it had been a while since he sang. He performed a brief song, noting to the pianist at the end that they were off-key.

Santizo has quite the opera voice himself, but his singing doesn’t seem to be his primary concern. He seems more passionate about being a leader, and showing off the rest of the club he has spent so much of the last three years building.

“Doing our full performance, when we did the Broad Stage, because, of course, it's the big stage — that's one of the best experiences with Opera Club,” said Santizo. “We did everything: costumes, staging, music, of course, lighting, the super-titles. The whole thing. It was a whole experience, hands-on. We did a whole opera ourselves.”

Santizo could talk about opera for an eternity. He has an endless list of people he has performed with and opera companies he has worked with, or hopes to work with soon. His eyes light up when mentioning the names of significant opera musicians the layman has never heard of.

Like many of the Opera Club’s 25 members, Santizo was put on to opera through the SMC Applied Music program, when a teacher of his told him he had a voice for it.

“People who come to Santa Monica College know that Santa Monica College has a big reputation for their music department,” he said. “People love classical music. It's hard to believe that there's that many people, but there are a lot."

Many members of the club speak of how they were recommended by the Applied Music program faculty to join Opera Club, and they all speak highly of its results.

“I joined the Applied Music program as a classical singer, and they told me it was a good idea to come into Opera Club to get more interest, and more understanding of the opera itself,” said Juarez. “It's made me a better singer.”

For many members, Opera Club is more than just a hobby.

“I'm learning so much from a club, maybe as much as my Applied Music classes," said De Vere.

Marsh-Ankerfelt, also a member of Applied Music, said, "It's such an amazing outlet, because you really just get to throw everything you have, every emotion you have. And it actually takes a lot out of you, because you really just get to really go for it. It's fantastic."

The club's singers are inspired not just by the beautiful and unique music opera has to offer, but the theatricality of it as well. They speak excitedly of the costumes they get to wear, the characters they get to play, and the stories they get to tell.

Each member was asked what made opera so different from the contemporary music most singers are attracted to. They had a lot of positive things to say about opera, but little to say about modern music. In a world full of inconsiderate DJs and their weak remixes of Adele, members of the SMC Opera Club aren’t afraid to stand out for being a bit old-fashioned. It’s a promising trend within a promising program at SMC.