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Finding their voices

For Medford opera student Gracie Ewert, finding her breathtaking performance meant daring to take more breaths.

In a moment that could have slipped past lesser-trained ears, Mark Morash noticed that Ewert was attempting to carry an entire stanza of Rossini's "Gusto ciel, in tal periglio" in one breath — a mistake he said younger singers are wont to do.  A breath, however, gave her blossoming vowels new impact as she conveyed through song a woman's prayer for refuge during a time of political strife.

"You have to find a vowel that can tell a story for like three seconds," Morash said as he coached her how to pronounce "tal periglio."

Ewert, a graduate music student in her first year at Southern Oregon University, was one of six locals and four out-of-towners who spent their Saturday perfecting arias in a master class with Morash, the San Francisco Opera Center's director of musical studies.

The results of Morash's brief critique were a louder and bolder performance that Morash said "leapt off the page."

For a class that was one part performance and one part intensive lesson, the 10 vocal students came from as far away as Seattle and San Francisco and as nearby as Ashland to learn from Morash.

Most students work regularly with a vocal coach, according to Brava! Opera General Director Lorrie Hall, one of the program's organizers, but Morash helped the students from a conductor's perspective, zeroing-in on students' operatic diction, pronunciation and character motivation.

"An opera singer is just like a play," Hall said. "It's the highest level of singing."

Ewert said programs like the master class, organized by Brava! Opera Theater, are part of the reason she came to the Rogue Valley and Southern Oregon University after completing her undergraduate degree in Fresno, California.

"That's what drew me to this area," Ewert said. "There is just a wealth of arts here."

Morash's master class in Southern Oregon leads up to a performance with members of San Francisco Opera's extremely selective Adler Fellowship — expanding from Northern California to Southern Oregon for the first time.

Finding the right local and regional students for the master class has been improved with the help of an audition video-hosting website known as YAP Tracker, according to Ewert and Hall.

"It's kind of like Amazon Prime, but for musicians," Ewert said.

From Hall's end, the web service helps match young performers at low cost and minimal travel; from Ewert's perspective, YAP Tracker gives a performer an idea of the types of opportunities in different geographic areas.

"It kind of helps you pick," Ewert said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Molly Williams gets tips from Mark Morash, director of musical studies for the San Francisco Opera Center, while performing Saturday at the Ashland Unitarian Church. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]