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LAO’s Josh Winograde--He Loves It When a Plan Comes Together

An Interview with Josh Winograde, LAO’s Senior Director of Artistic Planning

By Tom Lady

Joshua Winograde had a better opera upbringing than you. How do I know? Listen to this: “My opera education began at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion sitting next to Tara Colburn, one of the founding members of Los Angeles Opera. I was in high school with her son Cyril who knew how much I loved opera. Whenever he didn’t want to go to the opera with his mom, I would gladly take his seat. We would sit directly behind Randy Behr as he conducted, and often with Plácido Domingo on stage. Once, Tara brought me to the season opening of Madame Butterfly with Plácido and Maria Ewing. At the dinner afterwards an announcement was made that as a special surprise, a CD of Plácido’s Butterfly recording with Renata Scotto was hidden under one seat at every table, and at our table that happened to be my seat. I’m sure Tara had it planted there for me, but I think I just about died when I found it. Today that recording sits next to my desk in my LA Opera office.  People who have been involved with the opera since those days sometimes remember a 14-year-old kid in a tux that Tara used to bring backstage after opening nights. Well, that was me!”

Josh blazed quite a trail to become Director LAO’s Artistic Planning and a principal architect of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program (YAP). A former opera singer with undergraduate and graduate degrees from The Juilliard School in New York, Josh is an alumnus of Houston Grand Opera’s young artist program. While getting his opera-singing career off the ground, he developed a skill for the management side of the opera world. Opportunities to stretch these managerial muscles arose at Juilliard as well as at Wolf Trap, where he founded its young artist opera studio.

In 2008, Josh’s career came full circle when he returned to LAO and was instrumental in the birth and evolution of the LAO Young Artist Program. With the acclaimed program now in its seventh year, Josh is constantly searching for new singers to add to its already illustrious roster of talented artists. Part of that job requires Josh to attend or act as judge at numerous opera competitions around the world. He recently adjudicated vocal competitions in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Azerbaijan.

Josh’s obligation as the Director of Artistic Planning is to affect the collective vision of Plácido, Maestro James Conlon and LAO President and CEO Christopher Koelsch. Accomplishing this wish list includes casting, helping to determine repertoire and productions, and identifying the music staff to prepare each show.

What does he look for in a young artist? Josh agrees with Plácido “that an opera singer should reflect all the fine arts that come together in opera: theatricality, musicality, the voice, the ‘it’ factor that makes you want to watch them.” When auditioning a young artist, Josh needs to see evidence that all these elements are there or recognize that the potential is certainly there.  Former YAP tenor Benjamin Bliss had no opera experience at all but possessed that potential aptitude.  On the other hand, mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller came to LAO with tons of operatic experience from Juilliard and Wolf Trap. Both blossomed as LAO Young Artists and now have remarkable international careers.

Josh attributes the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program’s swift ascent to two basic elements: First and foremost Plácido Domingo and James Conlon. They provide the necessary clout and mentorship to give Young Artists exposure to the best in the business. Thanks to them, LAO YAPs have access to top operatic experts such as voice teacher Dr. Stephen King and vocal coach Yelena Kurdina amongst many others.

The second key ingredient in our YAP’s success is Josh’s understanding of what young singers need to succeed these days. Although most YAPs join LAO having already completed music school, they continue to receive ongoing additional training here. Exhibit A: Language study. Because language is so critical to opera, LAO has partnered with a local language school to provide our intrepid YAPs with as much language study as possible. Exhibit B: acting study. Josh says that as opera evolves to encompass a more contemporary aesthetic, “it expects a more theatrical component. That’s why we have Phyllis Katz, founding member of the Groundlings Theater, and internationally renowned stage director Paul Curran work with our YAPs.”

He doesn’t want to stop there. Next up, Josh is taking a hard look at introducing sports psychology to the operatic mix. “Sports, like opera, takes mental stamina as well as physical ability,” he says. “The earlier our young artists learn that important aspect of performance, the better prepared they’ll be to command the stage.”

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Author: Tanya Len
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