Joshua Winograde, the company’s senior director of artistic planning, has been living out his dream at LA Opera. For the past decade, he has developed the company’s celebrated Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program and played an instrumental role in championing the company’s artistic vision. It has been an incredible journey for Winograde, whose long history with LA Opera began when he fell in love with opera as a teenager.
As a teenager, Winograde took summer classes at UCLA. There he met an exchange student from Japan who introduced him to Kathleen Battle’s recordings. “I had never heard anything like her. I was totally unaware that a human voice was capable of doing anything like that,” recalls Winograde. After hearing Battle’s voice, he became even more interested in singing and performing. He joined choirs and took advantage of every opportunity to see productions at LA Opera.
“Tara Colburn, one of the founders of LA Opera, was the mother of a friend of mine in high school. My friend didn’t like to go to the opera, so I was his mom’s date,” Winograde jokes.
After growing up at the LA Opera, Winograde pursued a career as a singer. He received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Julliard School and embarked on a professional career as a bass-baritone (including time as a young artist at Houston Grand Opera). However, as Winograde’s career took off, he started dreaming of a different career path.
“I couldn’t shake this peripheral vision of a career producing opera,” says Winograde.
Winograde followed his heart and switched to a career in management, working with young artists at Wolf Trap Opera Company and Julliard. One year later, LA Opera came knocking.
Nino Sanikidze, head coach of LA Opera’s young artist program, called Winograde telling him that LA Opera was looking for an assistant director for the company’s new young artist program.
“I’m from Los Angeles and I always thought that LA Opera was the perfect place for the next great young artist program,” says Winograde. “It was serendipitous that they needed someone to help manage their new program at the exact same time I was transitioning from the stage to administration.”
Under the guidance of Plácido Domingo, James Conlon and Christopher Koelsch, Winograde took what he learned in his days as a young artist and professional singer and helped form LA Opera’s young artist program.
It is a program tailored to further the success of each individual artist. The two- to three-year program offers sessions with some of the greatest vocal coaches in the world, acting classes (some in partnership with the Groundlings Theater), language classes, mentorship, and even opportunities to take on significant roles in LA Opera mainstage productions. World-renowned voice teacher Dr. Stephen King is the program’s head of vocal instruction.
“The overall mission of the young artist program is to enable the right opportunity for any singer or pianist in the program at that moment when it will most likely to result in a success,” says Winograde. “The most obvious example of that is that many times we cast young artists in major roles in mainstage productions. That’s fairly unique to us and it speaks to the kind of philosophy that we are all sharing about what is good for these singers and pianists.”
When asked what he looks for in a singer, Winograde says, “They have to have an impressive talent. An ‘impressive talent’ could refer to an incredible voice—a voice that is so spectacular you feel like you need to fall down on your knees when you hear it—but it may also refer to an interpretive musicality, and/or a dramatic skill that resonates emotionally.” He continues, “Most of all, it’s a question of aptitude. You ask, ‘What is a person ultimately capable of if they are here working with Plácido and James?”
While LA Opera’s young artist program has only been around for a decade, it has an incredible list of alumni. The program has trained some of the next great opera stars, including Amanda Woodbury, Brenton Ryan, Janai Brugger, Joshua Guerrero, Ronnita Miller, Angel Blue, Nicholas Brownlee, and many others, who have all debuted on some of the world’s most important stages in recent years and won numerous awards.
As a teenager frequenting shows at LA Opera or as a former singer learning the ways of management, this kind of program (and acclaim) is something Winograde never would have imagined.
Or, maybe, it is.
“I had two fantasy scenarios when I realized I wanted to transition from the stage to management,” says Winograde. “I wanted to create a young artist program for LA Opera—my hometown opera company and the part of the industry that I am most passionate about—and I wanted to do casting for the Metropolitan Opera.”
For the past decade, Winograde has been living out the first fantasy and come next year he will pursue the second, leaving Los Angeles for New York early in 2017.
“The fact that I have now been able to do that first dream job and that I’ve been invited to that second dream job just seemed to serendipitous to pass up,” says Winograde. “I’ve been reminded in this past year that life can be an adventure. It was very difficult for me to decide to leave this family that I’ve grown to care so much about, but I recognize that my work with singers isn’t finished.”
Casting for the Metropolitan Opera, Winograde will have the ability to audition the young talent he’s worked so hard to develop this past decade and other young talent.
“I’ll have the ability to help these singers get a leg up or have an opportunity that’s right for them at the right time in their talent trajectory,” says Winograde. “I don’t see it as a change or shift; I see this as an evolution of the work I’ve done at LA Opera.”
Current young artist Nicholas Brownlee just made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Salome and Winograde happily read the many messages he received saying how wonderful Nicholas was in the opera. Winograde cherishes these moments and his ability to develop young talent in an art form he has grown up loving. He looks forward to continuing to provide these opportunities to the singers that LA Opera has trained, the ones they will train in the future, and to all excellent singers ready for that kind of exposure.
To learn more about LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, click here.