Aspiring opera singer Natalie Bodkin had a chance to hone her performance skills in New York City in June. The 23-year-old graduate student in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s School of Music and Performing Arts sang at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and The National Opera Center.
Bodkin, who is from Zionsville, Ind., was training with the New York Lyric Opera Theatre. The professional company conducts a month-long program that includes performances and voice lessons. She was one of 34 artists selected from applicants across the world.
Bodkin made the most of the opportunity. “I better understand now what it takes to fully develop an operatic role and make it your own,” she said.
The soprano’s biggest role was Pamina, a lead character in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Elizabeth Hastings, stage director for the production, said among many attributes, Bodkin puts “a lot of thought into what she sings.”
Opera singers must be actors who are able to convey emotion with the timbre of their voice, Bodkin explained. “If something horrible happens, you might sing with a darker tone or, during an intimate duet, with a softer tone.”
Character study – researching personality traits and motives – is also essential. Bodkin studied Pamina, a princess rescued from an evil demon, intensely. “It gave me the ability to make decisions such as, ‘Pamina is like this, so I believe she would do this.’ ”
Singers must often study different languages, as well. Bodkin has performed in Italian, French, German and Spanish. Understanding the meaning of words is crucial for delivering them with the proper context or feeling. “It’s sometimes hard to catch nuances of language – especially in German – because there are words that have no English equivalent,” she said.
Bodkin is a classically-trained pianist. She began taking piano lessons at age 6; she joined her school choir in seventh grade.
In high school, she was an all-star lacrosse player on a state championship team. She quit after coaches suggested she give up music to concentrate on the sport. “I never looked back or regretted it. It just gave me more time to focus on piano and voice,” Bodkin said.
Music, after all, is in her blood.
Bodkin’s father, Clyde, the owner of a marketing communications firm, plays accordion and was once a wedding singer. Her mom, Jill, a nurse, plays piano.
Clyde Bodkin’s love of Cajun and zydeco music contributed to his daughter enrolling at UL Lafayette. He’s a longtime volunteer for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and for the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Natalie often accompanied her dad on trips to south Louisiana and fell in love with Acadiana.
When she began to consider colleges to attend, she checked out UL Lafayette. “It was a really good fit for me.”
Bodkin liked the music faculty, including Margaret Daniel, who recently retired after 45 years at the University. Daniel was Bodkin’s professor and primary voice teacher. “As a musician, it’s really important to find a teacher who will help you improve and I found that in Ms. Daniel,” she said.
Daniel said that of the hundreds of students she has mentored, Bodkin is among the best. “I would say top three.”
Bodkin realized that with a “music school that is a little smaller than some, I knew I would have many chances to perform.” In April, she starred as Gretel in the UL Lafayette Opera Theatre’s adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel.” Bodkin also performed in the University’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” a tale about a barber who kills his customers. She played the part of Johanna, who is imprisoned by an evil judge.
Shawn Roy, the School of Music and Performing Arts’ coordinator of vocal studies, directed Bodkin in “Sweeney Todd,” and has coached her during voice lessons. “Natalie has a beautiful voice, is studious and has an open mind. She’s a huge asset to our program, not just as a performer, but as a teacher.”
Bodkin earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance in May 2017. She will earn a master’s of music in vocal performance in Spring 2019.
She is teaching a voice class this semester. Her time in the classroom will help her prepare for her second career. “I want to make a living in opera as long as possible, then find a really great university where I can impart whatever wisdom I’ve garnered,” she said.
Main photo: Natalie Bodkin practices with voice coach Margaret Daniel. (University of Louisiana at Lafayette/Doug Dugas)
This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.