Made for the Stage

How a struggling biology student switched majors and ended up in the SF Opera

Candice Yung ’20 received As and Bs in high school. So when she found herself failing a core class her second semester at USF, the stress threatened to send her into a tailspin.

Instead of panicking, Yung met with an academic adviser. “We were talking about repeating chemistry or taking summer school when he saw my music theory grades and said ‘Why are you a biology major failing in chemistry when you have a 110 percent in music theory?’”

Her parents, she explained, wanted her to pursue a career in biotechnology or the medical sciences. Her adviser suggested she switch to a PASJ (performing arts and social justice) major with a music concentration.

It took convincing her parents, but by the end of her first year Yung had made the change. Then a class assignment to attend an opera sparked a new passion. A professor encouraged Yung to train as a soprano, and when she saw an open call for supernumeraries, similar to movie extras, for the San Francisco Opera, Yung auditioned. She was stunned to learn she’d be one of eight handmaidens of the princess in Turandot, a well-known opera by Puccini.

I hope that we have more Asian American role models in the field of entertainment, and I’d love to be one of those role models.

“I had been to the opera only once before this,” Yung says. “If I had gone somewhere other than USF, I would have never got this opportunity simply because of its location, right in the heart of SF with its vibrant art scene.”

In August 2017, Yung began rehearsing for the non-singing role five hours a day, three days a week, for three months. She performed in 12 shows, sharing the stage with sopranos who had performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Knowing her schedule, Yung’s professors allowed flexibility with assignments. “They made sure I was mentally and physically healthy, and ensured that I didn’t burn out,” says Yung. “They were really interested in my work.”

Yung, who is Chinese American, sees herself increasing diversity in opera and performing arts. “I hope that we have more Asian American role models in the field of entertainment, and I’d love to be one of those role models,” she says.