Special Music: Jenny Green performs “Una Voce Poco Fa”

Video Crew and Abigail Poag

This piece was originally printed in the Jan. 2, 2018 issue of the Review.

While other third-graders were belting out pop songs and humming along to the radio, freshman Jenny Green was singing opera arias. 

Green’s early start with opera has given her more time to train her voice and to develop a greater understanding of operatic works. In her voice lessons, Green focuses on arias, emotionally expressive solos.

“Every aria is part of a greater story, so you have to get into the mood of the character who’s singing it,” Green said. “You know you’re doing it right when you feel the things you’re trying to portray.”

As well as weekly opera lessons, Green participates in Les Chanteuses and will perform in The Music Man, the spring musical. Green enjoys singing different genres of music but prefers the dedication required to sing opera.

“It’s more challenging, so I’d rather spend my free time working on that instead of just going through choral music,” Green said.

Although she does not often sing opera in front of her peers, Green’s friends have persuaded her to perform for them in the VST after school. Green’s soprano voice has caught the attention of SJS faculty members, who sometimes overhear her impromptu performances.

When Middle School Theater Director Alex Arizpe was in the VST one day, he noticed a voice coming from Lowe Theater. Arizpe was impressed with the strength and maturity of Green’s voice.

“I was blown away because I didn’t know that was her singing,” Arizpe said. “That kind of talent is priceless.”

Green has been singing since kindergarten when she first joined the children’s choir at her synagogue at the time, Temple Emanu El.

After she developed a minor breathing issue, Green’s parents took her to voice teacher Elena Nikulshina-Fray, who introduced her to opera to correct her technique.

“I was sucked in,” said Green, who has been studying under Nikulshina-Fray ever since.

Vocal instructors generally discourage children from beginning opera training until their voices have developed, but Nikulshina-Fray urges singers to learn opera at an early age, accepting Green as a student before she had turned nine.

What I do cannot be called ‘teaching opera,’” Nikulshina-Fray said. “I work first on proper voice development, and only after a while [do] we begin working on the repertoire.”

 Green’s path to operatic prowess has not always been easy. When she was 11, Green grew tired of opera and took a break. After a year off, she decided to give it another chance.

“I started taking [opera] more seriously, which has given me a lot more of an appreciation for it,” Green said.

Singing opera requires years of technical training, but Green says she enjoys the complexity of the music.

“The music that I’ve gotten to sing has become more and more interesting,” Green said. “It really is cool music to try to sing; it makes me happy.”

Her background in languages has proved useful in singing opera. Green, who simultaneously learned Russian and English growing up, can also hold a basic conversation in French, German and Hebrew. She is taking Chinese and Latin at SJS.   

“Knowing what the arias mean right off the bat is helpful,” Green said. “In Russian, it’s annoying if you have to keep going back to a transcription and sing from that because the script is Cyrillic.”

It’s not just Green’s voice that dazzles audiences — her friends say her love of opera brings the songs to life.

“It’s magical because she goes somewhere else,” freshman Lauren Aguilar said. “You watch her sing and you’re somewhere else. You forget what’s happening.”