Camden teen hitting the high notes in music world

Bella Abbrescia,. 15, of Camden, has sung at Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House. She will perform for Pope Francis next Easter weekend with the Archmere Academy Mastersingers. (Special to The Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

CAMDEN — Performing at Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House are accomplishments to which many artists spend a lifetime aspiring. Bella Abbrescia, a soprano opera singer from Camden, has already accomplished both as a sophomore at Archmere Academy in Claymont.

How does one top performances at these elite venues at such a young age? Performing for the pope, of course — an honor Bella will have next Easter weekend.

She and her family just returned from a two-week trip to Australia that included a July 10 performance at the Sydney Opera House.

Earlier in the year, she’d auditioned as a Soprano 1 for the Honors Performance Series and was accepted after a review by the Honors Selection Board. Bella joined young performers from around the world for the performance.

Participation in one of the five Honors Ensembles is limited to the highest-rated high school performers from around the world. As part of this elite group, Bella was also able to perform at the 2017 National High School Honors Performance Series in February at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

“Being selected to the Honors Performance Series is something each finalist should be extremely proud of accomplishing,” said Morgan Smith, program director,

“We processed more than 18,000 nominations this year and have selected nearly 750 of the most talented student performers from around the world. Working with these conductors and performing at the Sydney Opera House is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that these musicians will never forget”.

Bella, 15, agreed that the trip was an opportunity of a lifetime.

“It was such an amazing experience,” she said.

“The sound and acoustics in the opera house are incredible and it’s such a beautiful building too. Before the performance, we were practicing together for seven hours per day and I was able to get really close to the other singers because everyone was putting so much emotion into what we were doing. There was even lots of crying. It was so beautiful, almost indescribable.”

Starting young

Bella’s interest in opera began at an early age, primarily due to her parents’ interest in the genre, she said.

“My mom always had opera music playing, and I started singing along with it casually when I was around 6 years old — that was how I got started,” she said.

“When I was in lower school, it was mandatory to do choir and I found out quickly that I really enjoyed it. So in middle school I signed up for choir again and my choir director offered to be my voice coach — that was in sixth grade. I’ve just been working to find new ways to improve ever since.”

Bella’s father, Dr. Vincent Abbrescia, said having a budding opera singer in the family caught him a bit by surprise.

“Every dad is happy to see their children getting interested in music and walking around the house singing when they’re young,” he said.

“But as a non-singer myself, it really didn’t hit me right away just how gifted she is. Suddenly, the choral director wanted to talk with us about Bella, and she told us that she really had a great talent worth developing. We were surprised and had to sort of teach ourselves quickly what to do next to help.”

Starting to study in earnest at the age of 9, her career hit the ground running when she auditioned for the University of Delaware’s Blue and Gold Children’s Choir. She was selected and performed as a member for two years in 2010 and 2011.

Bella Abbrescia, 15, sings in her Camden home. She attends Archmere Academy in Claymont. (Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

She also has been selected as a Soprano 1 in the Delaware All-State Choir for the last three years, being selected as the first chair in 2015 and second chair in 2016.

To help foster her talent, Bella linked up with Tower Hill School’s choral director Zerrin Martin in Wilmington where she went to middle school. Bella says without the help of her mentors, she’d never have made it as far as she has already.

“Without my voice coach, Ms. Martin, I don’t think I’d have had any of the opportunities I do today,” she said. “I had the drive to sing, but she taught me so much about the techniques and everything I need to become a good singer. She’s taught me how to take care of myself and my voice and to always make sure I am being the best I can.

When she started attending Archmere Academy it wasn’t long before she became one of the school’s nationally renowned Archmere Mastersingers — one of the top high school choirs in the country.

Bella says David Ifkovits, the music department chairman, has been another indispensable influence in embracing her talent.

Practice, practice, practice

The facetious answer to the question “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” is: “Practice, practice, practice.” For performers, this takes a lifetime. Although Bella is still young, the same has been true for her.

“Bella was given a gift, but it’s also her passion, she works really hard to develop it and all her success and improvement hasn’t come easy,” said Dr. Kelly Abbrescia, Bella’s mother. “It’s just so incredible to watch your child grow up, stand on these stages and hear her incredible voice — it’s amazing.”

Bella participates in numerous performances throughout the year, attends vocal lessons once per week during the school year and participates in the Mastersingers practices twice a week. That doesn’t count the constant practice she does on her own time. A few years ago, the commitment to the passion even put a bit too much stress on her vocal chords.

“A few years ago I got a polyp on my vocal chords from overuse and I had to go to speech therapy,” Bella said. “The air wasn’t flowing properly through my vocal chords and I had to learn a bunch of vocal exercises to make sure my voice stays healthy. It was a good thing too because I still do them now just to make sure — especially when I’m sick.”

Just singing for fun at home is another way Bella stays limber and develops her skills.

“My two favorite songs to sing right now are ‘Think of Me’ from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘I Speak Six Languages’ from ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’,” she said. “Singing that song has been the first time I’ve been able to experiment with belting, which is projecting my lower range into higher notes. It can be hard and you have to do it carefully so you don’t hurt your voice. It’s really fun.”

Bella Abbrescia sang with the Honors Performance Series in Sydney Opera House on July 10. She was among 750 nominees selected to participate among a pool of 18,000 young musicians from around the world. (Submitted photo)

Some practice comes in the form of portfolio building as well. Although she’s already performed far and wide, she’s also performed locally at the Wesley College Bennett Chapel in Dover. As part of a portfolio project, she planned, designed, directed and performed her own 13-piece solo sophomore voice recital in September of 2016 at the venue.

What’s next?

The next big item on Bella’s agenda is to serenade the Pope Francis. The Archmere Mastersingers were invited by the Vatican to sing in St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter weekend 2018.

“I am so excited to see Rome, Italy, the Vatican and the pope and to sing there — it’s going to be awesome.” she said.

As for her education and future career, deeply inspired by “The Phantom of the Opera,” Bella hopes to pursue musical theater and opera singing.

“I saw ‘Phantom of the Opera’ live for the first time in New York about four years ago and I loved it so much,” she said. “It’s a mix between a musical and an opera which is really what I’d love to do. It’s a dream to play the main role of Christine. It’s like THE role for a soprano. All sopranos want to play Christine.”

To prepare for the globe-trotting future of a musician/opera singer, she’s been schooling herself in multiple languages and pursuing dance and figure skating classes.

She now speaks conversational Spanish and Japanese and has been working on Italian for her upcoming trip to Italy. While she builds her portfolio, she is eyeing Carnegie Mellon University’s musical theater program and The Juilliard School’s classical singing program in New York.

 

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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