Standout opera students shine as they prepare to transfer

Ryan Billings

Two students at Fullerton College found their passion for opera at young ages. For Michelle Lockington, piano lessons at age 6 gave her an interest in music. For Antonio Serrano, finding acclaimed operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti on YouTube at age 13 opened the door.

These standout student singers each had different entry points into music, but both found their way into the world of opera. Both have won awards for singing while at FC, were prominently featured in the spring opera scenes performance “Marriage and Secrets,” and have exciting summer programs awaiting them. Their time at FC have set up a career path for Serrano and Lockington as opera singers.

Tenor Antonio Serrano and mezzo soprano Michelle Lockington perform during the 2022 Spring Opera Scenes performance at Fullerton College. Photo courtesy Aram Barsamian.
Antonio Serrano and Michelle Lockington perform during the 2022 Spring Opera Scenes performance at FC. Photo credit: Aram Barsamian

Lockington’s path to opera followed a recognizable path. She took piano lessons and joined church and high school choirs. It led her to enroll in the applied voice program at FC. After her first semester, she auditioned for the opera workshop, enticed by the chance to play a character and have individual roles to sing.

Serrano’s path was a bit more dramatic. After watching that Pavarotti video on YouTube, he tried singing opera on his own but found it challenging without assistance. He turned his attention to mariachi music instead, and also joined his high school choir.

Upon enrolling at FC, Serrano went into voice classes. During a classical repertoire performance, his musical journey led him back to opera. Aram Barsamian, director of opera studies and coordinator of classical vocal studies, saw his performance and suggested he give the genre another try.

As the spring semester closes out, Lockington and Serrano gear up for their summer plans, which will include firsts for both performers.

For Lockington, this will include travel to Italy, the birthplace of opera. During her first time in Europe, she’ll be in Duino, participating in a month-long summer chamber music festival for strings, piano, voice, and composition.

Serrano’s plans include a summer opera performance at FC, as well as the Chicago Summer Opera program. It will include weekly voice lessons and his first chance to perform with a live orchestra.

Lockington credits the college and the program for the success of students like her and Serrano.

“We have great instruction,” said Lockington. “They truly invest in us, too. Most people in the program have two professors. Students in opera tend to be in applied voice, and that’s where we have one-on-one voice lessons. We each have a personal voice teacher,” said Lockington.

Tenor Antonio Serrano and mezzo soprano Michelle Lockington (in white with parasol at rear) perform during the 2022 Spring Opera Scenes performance at Fullerton College. Photo courtesy Aram Barsamian.
Tenor Antonio Serrano and mezzo soprano Michelle Lockington (with parasol) perform during the 2022 Spring Opera Scenes performance at Fullerton College. Photo credit: Aram Barsamian

Lockington and Serrano had a chance to shine during “Marriage and Secrets,” a show that featured a selection of scenes from three operas.

Originally scheduled for January, it was sent into limbo when the cast and crew members came down with COVID-19. However, the postponed production was resurrected about three weeks before the performance and had only three full rehearsals.

The first act of “Marriage and Secrets” featured performances from Domenico Cimarosa’s “Il matrimonio segreto” and Jules Massanet’s “Cendrillion,” with portions from Arthur Sullivan and William Schwenck Gilbert’s “The Pirates of Penzance” in the second act.

Serrano, a deep-voiced tenor, had roles as Prince Charming during “Cendrillion”, an adaptation of “Cinderella,” and Frederick in “The Pirates of Penzance.” During “Cendrillion,” the power of his voice charmed the audience.

Lockington, a mezzo-soprano, portrayed Fidalma during “Il matrimonio secreto,” and Ruth in “Pirates of Penzance.” She characterizes both as nurturing figures, a niche she has often found herself in during her performances in the opera program.

Operas are generally sung in Italian, German, or French, so storylines can sometimes be lost on audiences. Director Aram Barsamian helped the audience follow the raw emotions being told through song and staging by explaining a synopsis of scenes between acts. A projection above the stage also had an English translation of the lyrics being sung.

“I would love to keep singing stuff like this in the future,” said Serrano. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to put on a three-hour-long production with characters and storylines, and the music is beautiful.”

They’ll both be transferring as voice performance majors during the upcoming fall semester at Cal State Long Beach, where they plan to audition for the opera concentration.