Jason Olson, Deseret News
Mountain View High School senior Chelsie Shumway, left, and Caleb Barnes of Palmdale, Calif., rehearse a number as part of the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices workshop.

OREM — They swoon and sigh, falling into the arms of lovers, then dance about, praising the effervescent virtues of champagne.

It's not scandalous — it's opera, and besides, none of the performers is old enough to drink anyway.

For nearly two weeks at Mountain View High School in Orem, 16 artists ranging in age from 15 to 20 have polished their French, perfected their German and brushed up on their acting skills.

Wednesday night, they showed off with opera scenes and arias learned under the tutelage of masters, such as Dolora Zajick.

Zajick is an internationally renowned mezzo-soprano who said her career took off at age 34 with the role of Azu Cena in Verdi's "Il Trovatore."

After decades of performing, she began the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices two years ago, to solve the problem of fewer "dramatic voices" finding their way into opera.

"What we are doing is trying to provide an environment where large voices can (grow)," Zajick said.

A hundred years ago, opera singers didn't have to compete with electronically amplified orchestras or such loud instruments, and their voices carried more, she said.

Now, if singers start out in intense performances too young, Zajick explained, they burn out their voices trying to be heard over the accompaniment.

The goal of the institute is to find students when they're young and work with them step by step to protect their big voices, said Rosemary Mathews, artistic director for the institute and choral director at Mountain View High School.

"Big voices get shushed," she said, "So they think, 'Gee, I must not be as good as that quiet girl."'

The institute teachers say they look for future stars before they get deluded into believing that their big voices should be hushed or blended, rather than prized.

"We're looking for potential more than we're looking for polish at this age," Zajick said. And with time, her ugly ducklings, as she calls them, will blossom into beautiful operatic swans.

Chelsie Shumway, 17, a lyric soprano from Orem, doesn't consider herself a big voice, but she still captured the stage in a recent rehearsal with high, or counter, tenor Caleb Barnes, 17, from Palmdale, Calif.

"You have these big, dramatic voices (around you); it's really easy to get down on yourself," the Mountain View senior said. "But (it's about) getting your voice better, learning to not apologize for your voice."

Professionals from all over the country, including the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, have spent the week working one-on-one and in group sessions with Shumway and her peers, who have come from as far as California and New York.

"I'm getting to know these opera stars," Shumway said of pianist/coaches like Joel Revzen and Anthony Manoli. "These are people who have amazing careers. It's so big I can't even comprehend it."

It's been an inspiring several weeks for Shumway, who grew up loving music and musical theater. She's not sure opera performance is in her future, although her love for the style has certainly increased.

"I think (opera) has been a grown-on-me taste," she said. "Opera is amazing melodies that have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years and you can still be moved by it. Other songs don't have that same effect."

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