On Stage at SF Opera

The road to success isn't always the one you set out on

By Sayantika Mandal, USF NEWS Posted Tue, 10/02/2018 - 15:51

Candice Yung '20 received As and Bs in high school. So when the first-year student found herself failing a core class her second semester at USF, in spite of additional tutoring, the stress threatened to send her academic career into a tailspin. 

But instead of panicking, Yung made an appointment with Center for Academic and Student Achievement (CASA) advisor Liam Quinn. “We were talking about potentially having to repeat chemistry or take summer school when he saw my music theory grades and said ‘Why are you a biology major that’s failing in chemistry when you have a 110 percent (with extra credit) in music theory?’” Yung recalled.

Her parents, she explained, wanted her to pursue a career in biotechnology or the medical sciences.

“Quinn suggested that I switch to a PASJ (performing arts and social justice) major with a music concentration,” Yung says.

Opera premiere

By the end of her first year, Yung had made the change, and a class assignment to watch an opera led her to Opera Parallèle, a small-scale opera company in downtown San Francisco, that sparked her interest. Professor Rebecca Seeman, who taught music theory and voice lessons, encouraged Yung to train as a soprano. When Yung saw an open call to recruit supernumeraries, similar to movie extras, on the San Francisco Opera Facebook page, she auditioned. She was stunned to learn she'd bagged the role of one of the eight handmaidens of the princess in the show Turandot, a well-known opera by Puccini. 

“It's kind of crazy because I had been to the opera only once before this!” Yung says. “If I had gone somewhere else 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.” 

Yung began rehearsing in late August 2017 for up to five hours a day, three times a week, for more than three months. She debuted in September and performed in 12 shows, sharing the stage with world-renowned sopranos Martina Serafina in six and Nina Stemme in the other six, who have both performed the role of Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. The shows required donning hot, hefty costumes and a wig with two pigtails a yard long for three hours. 

Professors flexible on deadlines

Knowing her rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule, Yung's professors went out of their way to allow her flexibility in completing and turning in assignments.

“They made sure that I was mentally and physically healthy, and ensured that I didn’t burn out. They were really interested in my work. Professor Seeman even came to see the show,” says Yung, who, as a Chinese American, sees herself trying to break down barriers to increase diversity in the world of opera and performing arts. 

“Turandot, for example, is a Chinese princess and it would be cool to see more Chinese opera singers perform that role,” says Yung. “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.”

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