Festival Alum Katrina Galka: An inside look at the transition from university to the professional st
Thank you for sharing your time with us, Katrina! After being a 3-season participant of the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival Vocal Program, we are so thrilled to hear about the exciting new things happening in your career. Can you share a bit about your educational background and how you made the transition from the university setting into the professional music world?
I completed my bachelor's degree at Southern Methodist University, my master's at Boston University, and then joined the Opera Institute, Boston University’s post-graduate certificate program. The way they have structured it closely resembles a residency with a young artist program, which was incredibly beneficial. When I got the Portland Opera contract, it was really pretty last minute, which is how a lot of things happen. All of a sudden, someone gets a different opportunity that leaves a slot open for you to audition for, which is kind of what happened for me. I had about 5 or 6 weeks after I got the Portland job to get all of my things together and move there. Not only were there all the logistical things about moving to deal with, but I also had to start learning all of this music for the season.
We did a lot of outreach concerts, but not a lot of early-morning, school outreach. That was one really big draw of the program just because I had already done so much performing in a mainstage capacity in grad school. In an ideal world, I thought I would love to be in a program where I didn’t have to wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, because that can be really hard on the voice. I of course think outreach is really important, but I felt like this program would allow me to work toward the kind of artistry and singing that I wanted to achieve. It was building me towards a mainstage career with a rehearsal schedule similar to what I could expect as a principal artist, and I feel really lucky to have been given this option.
The first day was crazy - we had 6 hours of music and staging rehearsal, and then literally the next day we performed our first concert. It was definitely trial by fire! I was the only new young artist, and that can be a lot of pressure. You feel like a lot of attention is on you, and you have high expectations for yourself. You really have to be ready for that. You want to feel like you are doing justice to the music and the program.
But it was a really great way to be introduced to the company. We sang on the radio two days after the first concert. That was really terrifying, as it was my first time singing on the radio. Then we sang on a steamboat...there were just a lot of really cool opportunities! What I realized early on is that it really is all about giving. Also, if you’re not having fun with it, then what is the point? For me, it was fun to reach out to people and share with them what opera is all about. It’s wonderful to know that you are singing in the community and having an impact.
Then we started rehearsal for Die Fledermaus (I was covering Adele and singing Ida). It was a small role - she sings mostly with the chorus and then has some dialogue - but it was a nice opportunity to show what I was capable of without feeling like the spotlight was on me so much, that I was professional and prepared, and to also watch the other artists and see how they had prepared and how they conducted themselves in rehearsal.
Then in the spring I sang Frasquita in Carmen, which was a really good opportunity to work closely with supportive colleagues and wade into the professional experience. For me, that is the best part of a show - when your colleagues are supportive and giving on stage and in life. It makes you feel like you are supported as a young artist and that you’re every bit as worthy of being there as everyone else. I feel very lucky that it was such a positive experience. You are slowly but surely building who you are as an artist, and so to have positive reinforcement along the way is really important. I also gave a solo recital which I got to program myself and came in second at the regional level of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the second time in a row.
Next I covered Anne Trulove in The Rake’s Progress, which was a little bit of a stretch role for me. I think that is a valuable thing about a young artist program - you might be learning and covering a role that you won’t be singing tomorrow, but it’s good to have that in your toolbox and explore a different musical world. And then I got to sing Adina in The Elixir of Love, which was actually an addendum to my original contract. They saw the work I had been doing in the program, and felt confident enough in my abilities to offer me that role, which was incredibly encouraging!
The second year with Portland I sang Papagena in The Magic Flute, which was the first time I repeated a role. It was neat seeing how different the character could become based on the production, director, and cast. It is always going to be a different experience, and there is always something new to learn.
After that I sang Johanna in Sweeney Todd followed by Elvira in The Italian Girl in Algiers, which was incredibly athletic! I mean, Rossini is athletic singing already, but the set had this crazy raked stage that was designed to look like a magic carpet flying into the orchestra pit. At one point in the Act I finale, which is notoriously difficult, we were crawling across the stage, with me singing a high C for I don’t know how many bars, too many bars! And then another one for equally as long - it was definitely the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But it helped me realize what it means to be an athletic singer, which I think is becoming increasingly more important.
In the end, I really felt like I became a part of the community during my time in Portland. You really become close to a lot of your colleagues and the patrons and workers and volunteers. You really do have your team behind you, and they are so happy to see you come back, which I think is really special.
You are currently a Studio Artist with Arizona Opera, but were have been released to sing with The Atlanta Opera this fall as well. How did you make that transition from Portland, and how do you feel about balancing the two?
I love that I get to be a Studio Artist with Arizona Opera and benefit from the community and training that it provides, while also having the chance to start branching out into the principal artist experience. The Director of Artistic Operations at Portland Opera recommended me for the Atlanta opportunity and helped me get the audition, and I guess Atlanta liked me from the audition, because now I have a 5-week contract singing Blonde in The Abduction from the Seraglio with The Atlanta Opera. It is a nice way of bridging the gap between being a resident and principal artist, and I feel lucky that Arizona Opera believed this was a good enough opportunity to grant me a short release from them in order to take the contract.
What was the biggest obstacle you feel like you came up against in your career up to this point?
The hardest thing is getting that first opportunity. Like anything, you need experience to look like a good hiring option, but it can be hard to get that first job. And connections are important; not just that you know someone, but that people know what you are like to work with. Once you get that first job, things really start moving forward.
Then the other obstacle is always within yourself. You know, as singers we are always in some state of growth, both vocally and personally. While I was in school, I often felt like I wasn’t ready yet, that I wasn’t good enough yet, that I wasn’t at that professional level yet. And then you get into a program, and you can’t keep thinking that way. You have to feel like you deserve it and that you worked hard and are a good artist, while still maintaining a humbleness and a willingness to learn. You have to maintain a positive self-view while also being willing to take constructive criticism. It’s hard to stay strong within yourself and your identity amidst all of that, but I think that once you realize that it will always be that way a little bit, that those feelings just change and morph with each place that you find yourself, you can start to let go and just enjoy where you are.
What advice would you give to young artists just graduating from college/post-grad programs today?
I think it is important to recognize and follow what your real interests are. If you are doing what really speaks to you, you going to be more energized and passionate about it. There are so many roads that you can go down, so you have to listen to what makes you happy as a person and an artist.
How did being involved in the Amalfi Coast Festival affect your growth as a performer and an artist?
I am so grateful to have been a part of this program, and that I joined it while I was pretty young, beginning the summer after my sophomore year of undergrad. It too was kind of trial by fire - it could have been overwhelming, but you realize right from the start that the key to success is being really prepared. Once you get there, all you have time for is what you are doing in the moment. The last thing you want to have to do after being in rehearsals and lessons and coachings all day is to go home and have to learn and memorize music. And that is truly the way it is in the business as a whole. I think it’s a mistake to think that you can come to a rehearsal process and try to memorize as you go - it’s just miserable! You are giving your all in rehearsal, you’re making adjustments to your preparation based on what the conductor, director, your colleagues need, and then you have future projects coming up that you also need to devote time to. There are too many pressures and you’re being pulled in too many direction to arrive unprepared and still do your best work. Basically, that fast pace of the program taught me a lot of excellent preparation skills, as well as how to work with new people and adjust quickly, just learning what it means to be a good colleague.
I loved everyone that I got to work with, and the network it helped me create was invaluable. It also offers faculty a community of teachers and coaches to recommend their students to, which is what led my undergrad teacher to connect me with my grad school voice teacher.
Then from a cultural perspective, when you are going about your day-to-day life, you really sense what it feels like to live in Italy and to be Italian. I don’t know, there is just something about it that is hard to explain, but it’s so special! And because the township is smaller very few people really speak English, so you also really do get the opportunity to speak the language and absorb the culture in a deeper way!
What are you plans for the future as you continue after this season?
Arizona Opera gives you the opportunity to stay on for a second year, so it just kind of depends on what productions they’ll be doing. I am doing auditions this season just like every season. At this point I’m really looking at top, competitive young artist programs, and then if that doesn’t work out I’ll continue finding my own gigs and looking for management. For me, it’s about building my repertoire and being seen on stage doing roles that are good for me. It’s hard to plan for the future in this career, so you just have to embrace the uncertainties. We’ll see what happens!
Thank you for sharing a piece of your journey, Katrina!
To read more about Ms. Galka, visit her website at katrinagalka.com