A Passion for Opera

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By Pam Teel

At the ripe young age of five, Millstone Resident Sara Zerilli loved to sing. At  the age of nine, her voice teacher, Amanda Lee-Santos, introduced her to Italian

Art Song. Her first introduction to opera was when she went to see the  production of La Traviata at the Met. The performance had a lasting effect on  her prompting her to want to sing operatic songs.

From her first performance in 7th grade, with Opera Forza, she was cast as the lead character, Amahl, in the production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. In 8th grade, at Millstone Township Middle School, she was cast as the opera star Jenny Lind in Barnum, directed by Lisamarie Cappuzzo. At Red Bank Regional High School, a major performing arts school, she further developed her talent.

Presently, Sara is a senior vocal performance major at the Manhattan School of Music studying with Shirley Close and Mignon Dunn. At 21 years old, she recently received an Encouragement Award in the Metropolitan Opera’s Laffont 2023-2024  District Competition. Performance highlights include Suor Angelica (La Principessa) with Operallora, L’incoronazione di Poppea (Fortuna/Famigliari) with MSM, L’incoronazione di Poppea (Ottavia) with Saluzzo Opera Academy, and Amahl and the Night Visitors. (Ensemble) with Boheme Opera Company. She has performed numerous opera scenes including Carmen, La Cenerentola, Norma (Adalgisa), Le Nozze di Figaro (Marcellina), Hansel and Gretel (Mutter), Hamlet (Gertrude), Falstaff (Quickly), Dialogues des Carmélites (Mother Marie), Die Zauberflöte (Third Lady), and Idomeneo (Idamante). Sara is looking forward to her upcoming performance as Armelinde in Viardot’s Cendrillon with MSM!

The Encouragement Award consisted of sending in a video of her performing an operatic piece. Having been given an award, Sara has passed the first round for next season and will head straight to the 2024-2025 District Competition. She had a show in January with The New Jersey Symphony at Prudential & MayoPac. She will also be one of the Stepsisters in Viardot’s Cendrillon for MSM’s Undergraduate Opera Theatre in April. She is currently auditioning for Masters Programs.

Sara began cantoring under Kristine Reide at St Joseph’s Church in Millstone Township when she was 11 years old. It helped her connect with the Millstone community through music. “I love to serve my community, and it is an honor to be a part of such an intensely personal experience,” Sara stated. In her own words, “Music has the power to change the world. Whether it is a political statement, an outlet, or a passion, music is universally understood. Musicians became musicians because they fell in love with music’s power. They love interpreting composers’ masterpieces while making themselves and everyone around them fall in love with them over and over again.

I am a Senior Vocal Performance major at Manhattan School of Music and my dream is to become a professional musician for these reasons. Speaking from experience, being a student at a conservatory is stressful. Students are so busy and focused on the things they need to do for school, that it is way too easy to lose sight of what we are all there for. We are studying music because we love it. This past weekend, I competed in The Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition. This competition is an opportunity for young artists to remember that love, and to be reminded that we can change the world with music. I was surrounded by industry professionals who gave invaluable feedback and insight and they reinforced my belief that creating positive change through music starts with maintaining the love and inspiration of emerging artists. I was humbled by this experience. I received an Encouragement Award at this year’s competition but came away with something even more, inspiration!  In the summer of 2022, I was cast as Ottavia in L’Incoronazione de Poppea with The Berlin/Saluzzo Opera Academy in Italy. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I experienced both socially and professionally. The program was made up of people from all over the world, and I was one of the only Americans in the program. I learned so much more about the Italian culture. Being an Italian American, it was really interesting to be immersed in the culture of my ancestors. It was eye-opening to be performing a character in the very country she was from. The tragedy of Emperor Nero and Empress Ottavia is still revered in Italy today, and I got a new and interesting perspective on the opera, which helped with my character development immensely. The most beautiful part of the experience was getting to learn, firsthand, how much bigger the world is and how sharing other people’s experiences can help me grow into a more open-minded individual.”

We wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavors Sara. Keep on Singing!

To follow Sara: https://sarazerillimezzo.com/