While spending five weeks of summer break concentrating on your major field of study may not sound terribly exciting and exhilarating to some college students, Ben Townsend can truly say this summer of study was fabulous in many different ways!
Townsend, son of David and Jenny Townsend of Clinton, participated in the five-week University of Miami School of Music at Salzburg program. During this intensive program, in Salzburg, Austria, he took voice lessons, had vocal coaching, attended master classes five days a week, including a two hour period in which he was critiqued by an international singer, and attended the famous Salzburg Festival.
While the idea of being critiqued by a professional, in front of one’s peers, may seem intimidating, Townsend reveled in the experience.
“It was great. It was a lot of fun, really,” said Townsend. “Going into it I was pretty nervous, but after my sing through and we started to work through things…you break the ice with the nerves relatively quickly and I learned a lot from it.”
It was under the tutelage of Dr. Linda Di Fiore, a mezzo-soprano and regents professor at the University of Texas, that Townsend found himself. “She gave me a lot of compliments actually on my instrument and really gave me a lot of constructive advice.”
One of those pieces of advice was to “sit in a chair and lean back against the wall to sing one of my pieces. It had quite a dramatic result in just getting the sound to be where it should be.”
Talking to Townsend it is very evident how serious he is about making a career out of operatic singing. Entering his senior year at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) he has worked hard to get to where he is today.
“Singing is a very holistic thing,” he explained. “Once you have those things fixed there are so many other things to concentrate on. By all means, whatever issues I’m dealing with at the time I put a lot of effort into and when I feel they’ve been dramatically improved I have the confidence that it should be that way. Once I think about something long enough usually I keep it in the back of my mind. Over the last few years…It’s been a good progressive way to get better and better.”
"…his trip to study in Austria was an exceptional opportunity to hone his craft and meet many singers and teachers from all over the world,” said Roy Mazzacane, adjunct professor, voice, WCSU.
Outside of the classroom the students continued their studies by attending the renowned Salzburg Festival. The Salzburg Festival was inaugurated on August 22, 1920, according to the festival’s website. It notes, since that time, the Salzburg Festival has established itself as the most important festival for opera, drama and concerts.
“Between vocalists and instrumentalists it’s pretty wonderful,” said Townsend.
“On this trip I got to see some wonderful performances,” he said. “I learned a whole new world of opera repertoire and all sorts of different music that’s very classical in opera.”
Some of the extraordinary operas Townsend and his peers were able to see were La Boheme , composed by Giacomo Puccini, Die Zauberflöte - The Magic Flute, composed by W.A. Mozart, Ariadne auf Naxos, composed by Richard Strauss and Il re pastore, composed by W.A. Mozart.
Townsend’s interest in singing began as a fifth grade student at the It was at this same time that he started doing Clinton Family Theater. It wasn’t until he began college that he began receiving formal voice lessons.
“When I got to college…it opened up the world of opera to me and since then I’ve fallen in love with it,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”
“He is a great student and his voice is beautiful,” said Mazzacane. “He possesses a warm, rich, lyric baritone voice that has great potential for a singing career.”
One of the highlights of his WCSU education has been performing, along with fellow students, the Yale Russian Chorus, West Point Cadet Choir and Russian singing stars, in Rimsky-Korsakoff's "The Czar's Bride," at Carnegie Hall.
“That was the very first opera I did, right in Carnegie Hall,” said Townsend. “It was great looking out and seeing like 3,000 people. It was very exhilarating. That was four years ago now and that really confirmed how much I would like to perform and continue to perform especially in the field of opera.”