A High Note

August 29, 2013
BY Simone Ellin

Erica Ferguson’s parents like to say she was born singing. “When I cried, my cries sounded like songs,” said Erica, 17. Perhaps the Rockville resident was already rehearsing for her future career as an opera singer. On Aug. 2, she made her Baltimore debut in an original opera, “Ava and Alex,” a production written, performed and produced by a young group of vocalists who attended a unique opera camp last month at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

Erica was one of 25 talented vocalists ages 13 to 18 to be selected for the Modell Lyric’s fourth annual Opera Camp, which took place from July 8 to Aug. 2. In addition to their work in “Ava and Alex,” the campers, who won full scholarships, received vocal, drama, movement and improvisation training. They attended master classes in set design, lighting design, wigs, makeup and stage management, toured the Walters Art Museum and attended concerts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

“The opera [“Ava and Alex”] is a love story about two college kids,” Erica said. “I played Ava, a working-class girl who’s the first in her family to go to college. She’s been working all her life so she can reach her goal of having a career in international business. Alex is a rich boy who has always had things, and through his relationship with Ava, he learns to pursue his true calling — art.”

Erica became serious about singing in the sixth grade. Recognizing her daughter’s talent, Marlyn Ferguson arranged for her daughter to study with a private vocal coach. For the past five years, Erica has studied with Jennifer Suess at the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C., where she is a member of the school’s honors program. In her upcoming senior year at Rockville High School, Erica will be the singer in the school’s jazz band. Earlier this summer, she played Barbarina in “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Bethesda Summer Music Festival.

“The camp has been amazing, and it’s been such a wonderful experience to perform with kids who are this talented,” said Erica. “The director, James Harp, is so phenomenal; he basically runs the whole Baltimore opera scene. He’s so encouraging; I just love working with him.”

Erica also appreciated her opera camp experience because of the exposure it provided. “We had the opportunity to perform for the press as well as the donors. During Artscape we sang behind four professional singers, and another day we performed for the mayor. There were press people talking with us and filming.”

While attending the camp, Erica lived with her grandmother, Sonya Setren of Baltimore.

“Another great part of Erica’s love of opera is that Paul [Erica’s father] and I are learning about opera from her,” said Marlyn Ferguson, who noted there is vocal talent in the family. Ferguson’s great aunt is a professional opera singer in Croatia.

Because Erica has been spending a lot of time in Baltimore this summer, her mother, a native of Randallstown, said she has been rediscovering her hometown. “I love it, and it’s really a great arts town,” she said.

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