Summer on a Budget Training Programs that Won’t Break the Bank

Kyle Becker as Reginald Bunthorne inCollege Light Opera Company's production of Patience, 2017

Kyle Becker as Reginald Bunthorne inCollege Light Opera Company’s production of Patience, 2017  

If you are a singer, chances are you have thought about doing a summer program. Maybe you’ve heard your classmates rave about some of the big programs and have been disappointed when your research revealed big price tags. Don’t be discouraged! There are affordable summer programs that offer the chance to refine your performing, add to your résumé, and work with top-notch faculty. Here we profile a few after talking to singers and directors about their tips for finding a summer program that will give you a high-quality return on investment.

Luke Housner Workshops

For nearly a decade, Luke Housner has run summer opera workshops in Vancouver; Toronto; Portland, Oregon; and Bloomington, Indiana. These 12-day intensives have inspired students to return for subsequent summers to learn new repertoire, and inspired teachers to urge students to attend. Professor John Hines from the University of Northern Iowa describes these workshops as a great way to “coach language and style in a ‘hands-off-the-technique’ approach and perform complete operatic roles in a semi-staged setting.”

Learning, coaching, and performing entire roles is a top attraction for applicants. Housner takes great care to cast singers in roles appropriate for their vocal development, and everyone goes home with a role under their belt. The productions come together in fewer than two weeks, demanding great preparation and commitment.

Soprano Caryn Crozier—who has sung Barbarina, Papagena and Zerlina in workshops with Housner—describes the experience as “a small taste of what the real world of performing is like.” She also notes that his particular expertise with Mozart gave her a greater understanding of the composer’s recitative and style. Many singers referenced Housner’s high standards and commitment to training young singers as highlights of the program. One alum, Andrew Petracca, called these workshops the “best-kept operatic secret in North America.”

Tuition varies by program, but each is under $900. The majority of participants travel to these cities for the program, connecting in the months prior to arrange shared housing through services like VRBO and Airbnb.

Harrower Summer Opera Workshop
Another program offering full-length role performances is Harrower Summer Opera Workshop at Georgia State University. Under the direction of Artistic Director Carroll Freeman and Executive Director W. Dwight Coleman, Harrower presents two fully staged operas, opera scenes, and a gala performance with a combination of young artists, studio artists, and directing interns.

Gabrielle Beteag participated in Harrower Summer Opera Workshop for two summers and has also been company manager. She values the experience of preparing so many performances in a short amount of time. “It is intense,” she says, “and each singer has a considerable amount of repertoire—but when taken seriously, the end result is nothing short of phenomenal.”

In addition to the performance experience, studio artists and young artists have masterclasses, coachings, daily movement class, stage makeup and stage combat workshops, and diction and acting training in their three-week program. The cost is $650 for studio artists and $1,200 for young artists, with the option to stay in the GSU dorms for an additional fee.

Haymarket Opera Company Summer Opera Course

A relative newcomer to the world of summer vocal training programs, Haymarket Opera Company Summer Opera Course has attracted singers to their Chicago-based program since 2016. As part of an opera company that specializes in 17th- and 18th-century repertoire, this program includes training in the Feldenkrais Method and its application to Baroque gesture. With Italian language coach Alessandra Visconti on staff, they provide regular Italian coaching to participants. The culmination of the two-week program is a performance of an abridged Baroque opera, with an orchestra of period instruments.

Two key attractions of the program, according to alums, were the location and the faculty. The city of Chicago is a hub of musical activity and attractions and is easy to reach by air. Drew Mintner, Craig Trompeter, and Michael Beattie round out the faculty who direct and coach the singers. Tuition is $850, with local housing offered at an additional cost.

Chicago Vocal Arts Consortium Summer Opera Workshop

Another Chicago-based program is the summer opera workshop run by the Chicago Vocal Arts Consortium. Designed by singers, this training program gives attendees valuable experience, and local faculty and low production costs to keep tuition at just $800. The 2018 program guarantees each participant a performance of a Mozart role in a staged production. Tuition also includes six weeks of training and coaching.

CVAC members are encouraged to help with planning the workshop and are given priority in casting, so this program is best suited for singers living in or near Chicago. If this singer-run program inspires you but you can’t get to Chicago, consider whether you could put together a no-frills production where you live.

Redwoods Opera Workshop and Crittenden Opera Studio Summer Workshop
Not every singer is ready for—or looking for—a fully staged operatic role, and there are plenty of summer intensives that offer other training opportunities. Redwoods Opera Workshop is a 10-day vocal intensive that brings 15 singers to Mendocino, California, to “make beautiful music in a beautiful setting,” to quote their tagline. The experience includes an aria night and opera scenes, as well as classes and individual coachings.

Students dine every night at the home of Artistic Director Elizabeth Vrenios and stay in the homes of area residents. Home stays are a common occurrence in the career of a performing artist, so this is a valuable experience for young singers. The small size of each group and the frequent gatherings for classes, rehearsals, and meals increase the camaraderie and individual attention each student receives, which alum Gabriella Carrillo describes as the best part of the program. Tuition, room, and board cost $1,050.

Vrenios has been a longtime faculty member at another summer opera scenes program. The Crittenden Opera Studio offers summer workshops in various cities with tuition under $1,000. These workshops have been previously featured in the January 2009 issue of Classical Singer.

Northwestern University Summer Voice Institute

Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music holds a summer voice institute based on the principles in Institute Director W. Stephen Smith’s book, The Naked Voice: A Wholistic Approach to Singing. Limited to 10 singers and 10 voice teachers, it includes lessons and coachings, seminars, masterclasses, and a final opera scenes gala for $650 tuition. Housing can be arranged through NU’s student housing office at an additional cost.

Early Music Workshops

If early music is an interest, there are a number of short, affordable workshops such as the Amherst Early Music Baroque Academy Opera and Vocal Soloist Program ($650 for one-week programs at Connecticut College, housing available ranging from $195-$395 for the week).

Even if young singers don’t intend to specialize in early music, they may benefit from learning about its unique style to further broaden their horizons. Look in cities that have a strong early music culture: greater Boston, for example, hosts the International Baroque Institute at Longy and Early Music Academy Boston, each around a week in duration and under $1,000.

The College Light Opera Company Vocal Company

Crossover artists would benefit from looking into the College Light Opera Company’s Vocal Company, a tuition-free training program on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod which is nearing 50 years of summer performances. Singers perform in nine shows over 11 weeks and receive vocal and dance training as part of the rehearsal process. Executive Director E. Mark Murphy points out “most students don’t get that out of an entire course of undergraduate study.” Room and board are included.

Beth Burrier, a CLOC alumna who is now one of its music directors, attests to the worth of a summer in the Vocal Company. “Young singers gain invaluable experience in audition technique, rapid memorization, and the ability to work on many different styles,” Burrier says. Each summer’s repertoire ranges from Gilbert and Sullivan to contemporary musical theatre, so stylistic flexibility is a must.

Fellowship Opportunities

A handful of summer festivals and training programs offer fully funded fellowships. Atlantic Music Festival in Maine has a Resident Artist Fellowship for opera singers in a four-week program that concludes with a fully staged opera. The SongFest Professional Fellowship program for the performance of art song, held over three weeks at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, is fully funded (though housing and meals are not included) and they have other scholarship opportunities for studio artists and young artists. Both AMF and SongFest have multiple tracks for singers, only one of which is fully funded.

The Virginia Best Adams Vocal Master Class at the Carmel Bach Festival provides a stipend, airfare, and full participation in the two-week festival. With only four fellows selected, this, like many other fully funded programs, is highly competitive. Another tuition-free program, which also includes room and board but not transportation, is the Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Arts Fellowship, held over the summer months at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

If you’re not ready for a prestigious fellowship, what should you look for in choosing an affordable pay-to-sing? One thing to consider is location: Is the program close enough that you could commute from home to eliminate housing costs? If you need to pay for your travel, how will you get there?

Tuition is, of course, another factor: What is the most you have budgeted for summer training? Are there ways you could raise extra money, such as a recital or fundraiser? Also consider how much time can you spare in the summer. Libby Quam, who participated in the Haymarket Opera summer program, initially was looking for a training opportunity that wouldn’t require her to miss more than two weeks of work. When she found Haymarket, which would involve singing a role and was in the city where she lives, she knew she had found the right match.

Value is determined by more than the price tag: What will you get for your money? If you are just getting started and need roles on your résumé, perhaps a slightly more expensive program that offers a full role will better meet your needs than a less expensive one. Look into how often you are having lessons or coachings. Make sure there will be practice space where you can work independently to integrate what you are learning. Most programs will provide details on how much you will actually be singing, and you can use that information to make a decision.

Summer is just one piece of your ongoing training program. Jonathan Brennand, one of the music directors at CLOC and an alum of their instrumental program, recommends thinking about what will add to what you have done during the academic year. “Remember that summer programs are meant to enhance, compliment, and diversify what you’re learning in school or what you’re doing the rest of the year.”

“It is useful to consider not only your educational goals, but if the program you choose might be an avenue to professional work,” Haymarket Opera’s Artistic Director Craig Trompeter advises. Determining what you need to enrich your study may also include evaluating your professional goals. Younger students may want to discuss this with a coach or mentor if they have less familiarity with the professional world.

A quality summer program that meets your needs is an investment in your future career as a singer. The programs referenced in this article offer experience and education at a comparatively low cost. As you prepare for this summer and beyond, think seriously about your goals and resources so that you can choose a program that suits you—without emptying your wallet!

Margaret Felice

Margaret Felice is a singer, educator, and writer living in Boston. She is executive director of Boston Singers’ Resource. Read more at or find her on social media.


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