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Oldsmar's Kyle Gee to study opera at Juilliard


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Kyle Gee is a big man, with a big voice and an even bigger dream.

He wants to become an opera star.

And he'll make his biggest step yet toward that goal in September when he starts classes at New York City's prestigious Juilliard School of dance, drama and music.

The 6-foot-2, 300-pound tenor hopes to one day sing a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera.

"I think any opera singer wants to perform at famous opera houses, singing dream roles and having an amazing career," Gee said. "I do, of course, want all of that, but my real dream is to love what I do and to be able to share that with as many people as I can as skillfully and artistically as possible."

The list of those who have followed the same path to stardom is impressive.

Juilliard boasts such alumni as actors Robin Williams and Val Kilmer, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, singer Barry Manilow, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and soprano Renee Fleming, to name a few.

And it's exclusive.

Of the 4,000 talented young people worldwide who apply to the school each year, only about 8 percent make it through the doors.

The 18-year-old Oldsmar resident not only was accepted, but he also received a $28,000 scholarship toward the school's annual base cost of $47,540.

"Getting into Juilliard is a huge accomplishment," said Tina Gonzalez, Juilliard's director of financial aid.

Gee's scholarship, Gonzalez said, "is a reflection of his talent to a large degree."

The admissions committee selects students mainly on the basis of their performance in competitive auditions at the school, around the country and abroad. Gee auditioned in March at the school, which is part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts campus in the heart of the city.

"I was fully confident that I had a good chance at being accepted," he said. "I knew I was prepared enough that if I didn't get it, it was simply because I wasn't at the level I needed to be at to be accepted."

While Juilliard was his dream — his e-mail begins with juillhope — he had an alternate plan.

"If I hadn't been accepted," he said, "I would have gone 20 blocks north to the Mannes College The New School for Music, which has a voice performance program that is on par with Juilliard. They gave me a full tuition scholarship of $32,860."

• • •

The bi-racial teenager is an only child, raised by his single mom, Sandra Peterson, who is a registered nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Although he began serious voice study only four years ago, Gee has been singing since he was a preschooler.

As a 5-year-old, he astonished his mother when he learned to sing Colors of the Wind in English, Spanish and French.

He learned to love opera during the years between ages 5 and 12, years when he spent time in the adopt-a-grandparents program. His "grandparents," he said, "were big opera buffs."

At age 11, he joined Ruth Eckerd Hall's musical theater program for children. But at 14, he decided it was time to get started on his dream of a career in opera.

In 2005, he began formal lessons with former opera singer and Manhattan School of Music instructor Rosalia Maresca. She has been teaching voice at Ruth Eckerd Hall's Hoffman Performing Arts Institute since 2003.

After a rough first lesson — "I sounded like crap," Gee recalled — Maresca began gradually building his voice, teaching him how to breathe properly to produce the sound needed for opera performance.

In addition to coaching his voice, she had to teach Gee to curb his natural exuberance.

"I had to learn to calm myself down, to learn control," Gee said.

Once he was on the right path, Maresca said, "he seemed to know where to go with his voice. He's very astute and aware of what's good for his voice."

At one of their recent weekly lessons, Maresca said she has come to regard Gee as "the most outstanding teenager I've ever heard. The understanding and depth of his interpretation for his age is amazing."

Most importantly for a singer, she said, he has perfect pitch.

He also has a talent for languages.

"Italian is my best, French is my worst," Gee said.

His Neapolitan and Sicilian dialects are flawless, "an art in itself," Maresca said.

"For music, he's a genius," she added. "He can compose, he plays piano, he's an encyclopedia of opera."

Because he wanted to focus on his voice and music training, he took an accelerated program at the St. Petersburg College Tarpon Springs campus and graduated high school last year.

• • •

Gee's development has come with a lot of parental support, too.

For the past three years, he has performed with the Sarasota Opera's youth opera program.

"My mom drives me to the opera rehearsals in Sarasota and to lessons at Ruth Eckerd Hall," he said. "She does everything possible for me. I am closer to no one in the world than to my mother. She has been behind me all the way."

She's continuing to support him as he comes up with the extra money to pay the rest of his Juilliard tuition, fees and expenses.

In addition to financial help from his mother, he plans to take out a loan or two and get a work-study job at school. He also raised $2,210 last week with a recital at the Palladium in St. Petersburg.

He's understandably excited about the future. As is his mother.

"I can't wait to see his dreams continue to come true," she said.

When asked if he thinks he'll make it, he said, "I have no doubt in my mind."


He hopes to sing the lead tenor roles in operas such as:

• Otello

• La Traviata

• Andrea Chenier

• Il Trovatore

• Turandot

• Tosca

• Don Carlos

Kyle Gee of Oldsmar is heading this fall to the Juilliard School of dance, drama and music. Here he talks about some aspects of his dream for an opera career:

His voice:

"I'm a tenor. I would say right now for my age, a full lyric tenor. Your voice changes as you get older. Your technique grows with you and you are always learning. My goal is to be a dramatic tenor by the time I'm in my 40s.”

Favorite composers:

"I'm a big fan of Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and George Gershwin because we have the same birthday(Sept. 26)."

On career:

"Each voice is different. Joan Sutherland sang into her 60s and some only sing into their 40s. It's important to be healthy because you perform for hours carrying around these heavy costumes. I like to perform. I like to study, too. I like the whole process."

Oldsmar's Kyle Gee to study opera at Juilliard 06/20/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 21, 2009 8:21am]
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