ANYONE thinking opera is a grown-up's game, think again: Richmond Hill high schooler Hanna Suddath is making her debut in The Savannah VOICE Festival and Savannah Music Festival's Puccini double-bill.
An alumna of Savannah Children’s Choir, Suddath is an incredibly accomplished performer at 16. Last August, she attended the Teen VOICE Workshop and attended a summer music camp at Charleston Southern University on scholarship from Savannah Friends of Music. While at camp, she received awards for performance and for her own original compositions.
After one of many rehearsals, Suddath chatted about her goals and life as a young musician.
How did you start out singing?
I was just always surrounded by music. Whenever we went to church, I’d always be singing; eventually my mom spoke to the choir person and they let me sing to adult choir.
The first year I went to Savannah Children’s Choir camp made me love it even more—it just grew from there. My last year in the choir, I was thinking, maybe I want to pursue music in college. That’s my plan. I’m deciding between Vocal Performance and Music Education; I have a lot of options. And I still have two years to decide!
Did performing with Savannah Children’s Choir lead you to your interest in opera?
We did classical music in the choir, but we also did spirituals. It wasn’t until had voice lessons with Marco Santos... and Miss Rebecca [Flaherty] nurtured that even more. There’s so much stuff I didn’t know...she really taught me the basics behind everything, and Marcos taught me to sing out and to really love it.
How is opera different than the styles you had been singing in before?
I’d say it’s more sophisticated. Personally I love all the arias—those are just so beautiful. And when you have these singers, like Micaela Oeste, they are really inspiring me to work hard for what I want. I have to keep reminding myself that we’re all struggling with the same things, like what they call ‘the apple in the mouth.’
It’s a visual for lifting your soft palette. If your soft pallet drops, everything goes.
Tell me about your character Gherardino, the seven-year-old boy in Gianni Schicchi.
He's pretty mischievous! He likes to annoy his parents and he has a big truck he likes to play with. He just doesn't want to be there around the illness and everything. He's just a typical seven-year-old boy.
What was it like preparing for that role?
It's interesting, because I'm 16 and a girl! I kind of drew from when my brother was younger—he got in trouble a lot, and was very jittery. I'm drawing from that and from past summers at choir camp. It was hard to get into character for that, but I'm getting better!
Opera must be so different from your regular singing—it's so multidisciplinary, combining vocal performance and acting.
I was definitely struggling a bit this morning; I was focusing too much on acting and forgot my line! I haven't done much acting since sixth grade. I go to the bathroom and practice my facial expressions in the mirror and watch a lot of videos to prepare.
What led you to audition?
My voice teacher announced the auditions in an email.
I was pretty nervous and didn’t know if I should [audition]. But my voice teacher said, ‘You know, Hanna, you should do it—you might be able to get a part.’ So I worked on an audition song for a couple weeks. I thought I did fairly well—I thought it was going to be 50-50.
I screamed when my mom showed me the [acceptance] email! ...I was screaming, calling my voice teacher, totally screaming and crying. I mean, this is my first opera! I’m in high school! I’m 16! I was beyond excited.
Since you homeschool, has your schedule been pretty flexible with rehearsals? How does that work?
It is a demanding rehearsal schedule; since we homeschool year-round, we take our times off during different spots. My mom said, ‘Okay, you’re going to have your spring break now.’ It would have been a little overwhelming otherwise.
What’s it been like working with the cast?
It’s amazing! They’ve very supportive. I was surprised because I was a little intimidated because their voices were obviously matured and they had a lot of experience—but they’re just like me. I have two solos in Suor Angelica; they asked for volunteers for soloists, and I raised my hand. They were all coming up to me saying, 'you really did good for being put on the spot.' That's amazing to hear.
Why do you think this opera in particular might appeal to people who haven't seen opera before?
It's very eye-catching. It's very captivating, and you definitely won't be bored! It's so dramatic and funny, and it's just overall fantastic.