Singing for Opera Great Karen Slack

Opera student Kayla Kovacs (M.M. '24) reflects on performing for Met Opera soprano Karen Slack in a master class at the Conservatory.

December 22, 2022

I just finished the first semester of my Master in Music in Opera Performance at Boston Conservatory, and what more wonderful way to end it than performing in a master class given by one of my idols: American soprano and Met Opera star Karen Slack. 

During her residency—which included a special performance of Florence Price’s Song of Hope with Conservatory students—she gave a master class and a Q&A session with Conservatory students and faculty in which she talked about her experience as an emerging artist and entrepreneur, and her journey to becoming a mentor. These kinds of conversations with artists like Slack are so important for students and other young artists to have. There are many aspects of the “real world” of the opera and music industry that are only taught through experience, and getting to hear about Slack’s firsthand experience is very enriching exposure for students and up-and-coming artists like me. 

Getting to sing for and have a conversation with someone of Slack’s caliber was truly an out-of-body experience for me; one that is absolutely unforgettable. Karen Slack is one of the kindest, most approachable and conversational mentors that I have ever had the privilege of singing for. She teaches music and technique in such an accessible manner and tailors her teaching to the individual singer with whom she is working. 

For my coaching with Slack, I sang “E Susanna non vien … Dove sono” from W. A. Mozart’s opera Le nozze di Figaro. I was so happy to be coaching this with her because she has a fresh perspective on older opera literature. When coaching the rectitative of the piece, she said that “people sing Mozart too much like Wonder Bread,” explaining how the text of the piece can be used more expressively—as opposed to being plain—to enhance the drama. This kind of coaching really appeals to a younger opera singer like me, and, while being kind of silly, I really understood what she meant. 

In addition, she made my character, La Contessa, feel more like a person to me rather than just some notes on a page by encouraging me to view her through our current day culture. We can often get so caught up in the “grandeur” and “splendor” of opera as an art form, but artists like Karen Slack really bring it back to earth and make it more accessible to a larger audience. I feel so much more connected to this piece after coaching it with her. 

“Helpful” does not even begin to describe my experience coaching with her, even if our time together was short. I have admired Slack for quite a while now. She is not only an absolutely fabulous singer and vocal technician, but an incredible teacher. I admire her commitment to paying it forward and passing on her nuggets of knowledge to young artists. After the master class, she encouraged all of the singers, myself included, to keep in touch with her about our musical endeavors, and that made me feel that I had someone rooting for me, and cheering me on to pursue my passion in opera.

I am so overjoyed that, through my education at Boston Conservatory, I am a recipient of these kinds of educational opportunities. Since my time began here at the Conservatory just four short months ago, I have been able to work with amazing coaches and my incredible teacher, Dr. Rebecca Folsom, and I have met so many wonderful colleagues and made lifelong friends. Boston Conservatory is really a special place to be, and I could not be more grateful for my time spent at this institution thus far.