William Murray, the author of Fortissimo: Backstage at the Opera With Sacred Monsters and Young Singers, attended the Lyric Opera of Chicago several times during the 2003-04 season to observe an opera company's young artists' program.
Companies including the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera have such programs for young singers who have finished college or conservatory training but still need coaching and polishing before they attempt to launch operatic careers.
Phil Morehead, who heads Chicago Lyric's music staff, says that talented people who aren't yet finished artists often fall by the wayside.
"The prime requisite to being hired now is that you must have a career voice," he says.
This is an interesting topic for opera lovers who know about some of the pitfalls that can trap a young singer whose technique isn't perfectly secure. Some of the young singers were cast in roles in the Lyric Opera season.
"You mustn't use them for what you (an opera company) need but for what they need at this stage of their vocal careers," says director Lotfi Mansouri, visiting from the San Francisco Opera.
Mr. Murray attended coaching sessions and auditions and talked with the 12 aspiring singers, and with people who ran the program and coached the singers. He chose the Chicago Lyric's program because he was told it was the best.
Of course, 2003-04 is recent enough so that none of the singers has yet become a big name in opera.
Mr. Murray was an opera singer before he became a writer. He occasionally brings in something from his own training, mishaps and performing, which adds texture.