Published on August 27, 2016
TVF: Please tell us about your vocal training and performance history.
MK: I started attending a music school, first actually playing the piano, when I was 6 years old. In my country of origin (Serbia) we mostly use Cyrillic alphabet, I still didn't know to write and read Latinic letters which was necessary to understand and write solfeggio...so that was a bit of a problem, and I had to repeat a year, it was discouraging, though not for long...I finished High Music School (besides the regular School - in EU the Education is organized differently than here in the USA). At the age of 12, I started singing with Radio TV Children Chorus , (a wonderful group of children out of which 70% proceeded with a Music /Singing carrier.) We had a great, fun and inspirational conductor (Mo. Zlatan Vauda) to whom most definitely all of us owe gratitude in developing in us love for music and singing. We traveled the country, sang with lots of pop stars and celebrities, and were recording LPs and music for many different TV shows. It was so much fun! Eventually the time came when I outgrew the Children Chorus and my mom decided to enroll me in the music school again, this time in the opera singing department. I was warned from the beginning that only about .5% of singers studying to become an opera singer are successful. Regardless, I stared studying Opera while simultaneously attending regular school and later university. I studied Ethnology at the University of Philosophy since I couldn't know if I would succeed as an opera singer. However, I was very lucky in that over the course of my High School years, I got noticed by a wonderful Teacher and a Yugoslav opera star, Kammersaengerin Biserka Cvejic, who asked me to join her class at the University of Music in Belgrade. I was thrilled! And very lucky too...Long story short - to her, my teacher and now mentor, Biserka Cvejic, I owe for my knowledge in opera singing and to my success in the opera world. She is now 93 years old and we still talk on Skype - she came to visit me in California many times by now and has been at many of my performances throughout the world.
TVF: What roles have you sung?
MK: Being a mezzo soprano, my major role has been Carmen - which was officially by the critics named as my 'signature role" as I have sang it more than 250 time in the US and EU. One could say that is my most favorite role too not only because of the beauty of music, but also flamenco and castanets which I both enjoy playing and because Carmen ''opened all doors'' to me in my carrier. Other roles that I sang are Amneris in Aida, Dalila in Samson and Dalila, Prinipessa de Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur, Eboli in Don Carlo, Rosina in Il Barbiere, Orlfosky in Die Fledermaus, Laura in La Gioconda , Suzuki in Madame Butterfly and many more. I spent 3 years singing at Aalto Theatre in Essen, Germany and guesting throughout Europe. I moved to the USA some time in 2000, but started singing here few years earlier, first in West Palm Beach, Florida and Carnegie Hall. I moved to California at the end of 2000 where I had my son and my life had changed. After his birth, I started working more locally in the US, and had performed with Baltimore, Metropolitan Opera, Washington DC, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Opera, Opera Pacific, Pacific Symphony and Carnegie Hall again. I still perform but I am still trying to stay local because I am also razing my son, so most of my engagements in the last several years have been with Los Angeles Opera, Pacific Symphony, or solo recitals at many Universities and US cities.
TVF: If you teach singing, what is your teaching philosophy?
MK: I started teaching at Chapman University in Orange, CA (since 2007), have been giving master classes throughout Southern California, judging Competitions, teaching a vocal course every summer with OCAVA-in-Rome in Italy, and have opened my own private ''Milena Kitic Opera Studio'' which now includes about 50 students. Most of my private students are professional young singers or older singers that are already in their career and need temporary help with a role or have encountered a ''bump'' in their vocal technic. I also help a number of OCHA (Orange County High School of Art) students; prepare them for their auditions for Universities and singing assignments. I pay attention on vocal technic a lot and repeat until a student does best under his/hers circumstances. I think that the vocal technic is most important and that musicality and expression comes much easier when you have a technic first in line. My teaching philosophy is 'RIGHT practice makes CLOSE to perfect.' I mostly teach classical (operatic) singing, though I could certainly be of help to those that are into musical theater although that is not my specialty.
TVF: Do you believe that anyone can learn to sing (barring any major medical disabilities)?
MK: I do believe that all of us who have good hearing and sense for right pitch can learn to sing. Of course, we all have different type of voices and different vocal abilities so the result will differ due to those reasons too.
TVF: In your experience, what are some of the most common pitfalls in vocal training?
MK: Pitfalls - I think that singers are given to soon and too young way too demanding repertoire and most of all they are expected to learn huge roles in a very short amount of time - which is very strenuous for our human voice. My Teacher taught me that in her time (which was a golden era of the Opera, she sang with Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Cesare Sieppi, Franco Corelli etc) , singers used to prepare major roles at least 6 -12 months in advance, so that the throat and the vocal folds would get used to the role and 'digest' it. That is not the case anymore and it is frustrating for many young singers.
TVF: What does it take to become a good singer in your opinion?
MK: To become a great singer one must set his/her mind on it as number one, practice in a right way with a right teacher, repeat and repeat and be patient as the results don’t come quickly, work with good vocal coaches and learn to speak several languages so they can sing with understanding and learn their roles quicker, and of course than experience is a whipped cream on a cake, nothing can replace experience on stage...our performances normally become only better with time if the singers stay 'loyal' to practicing and to the vocal technic.
TVF: What do you think about current vocal training programs in the academia? What would you like to see changed/improved?
MK: As for current vocal training: I would make few changes most definitely - I think that young opera singers do not get enough one on one lesson with their vocal teachers. It is necessary to practice at least 3 times a week with your vocal teacher. Once a week, that the majority of our universities assign is too little. For those that are on a path to become opera singers, I would not insist on singing in choruses much anymore as human voices get tired easily. Problems for students here are also that every training, with every individual is very expensive and the distances, in case you get an engagement, are enormous, often Young Artists spend more on their gas to get to the Theatre where they are to sing that they earn....Donations from individuals and companies are crucial for those opera companies to survive and give a chance to young artists to perform.
TVF: Do you have your own voice care regimen?
MK: My voice regimen - I make sure I am well prepared, that I know the role and that I 'make music" with it, and not only that I 'learned the role". I work with best coaches I can find in my area ( I love working with Kosta Popovic, Cathy Miller and Cheryl Lin Fileding) On a day of performance I try not to talk too much and sleep well and to stay away from problems and stress so I can sing peacefully that night. On the road, while traveling, it's the same thing - I avoid talking, try to sleep well, take honey regularly.
TVF: Do you still take lessons on a regular basis?
MK: I still work with my Teacher KMS Biserka Cvejic, whenever I can, and I of course learn from coaches that I have opportunity to work with at many opera theaters.
TVF: Not everyone can have a career at the Metropolitan Opera or on Broadway. In your opinion, who can? Or who should?
MK: Those that are dedicated and 100% into becoming a professional singers and it represents their priority at early age in their life and those that got themselves a great teacher/mentor/supporter, those who work very hard and always try to do the best, who don't 'fall in love'' with their success and voice but those who always want to perfect their skill and keep learning from others singers/dancers/actors.
TVF: What career options do singers have if they can’t have a major career?
MK: Many can work in Art/Music administration and I know many who do that very successfully; sing in professional Choruses; run Music Schools; raise funds for Theaters; work for Classical Music Radio Stations; if they learned other languages - teach English in all of European counties whose language they know, and many more...
TVF: What is the most difficult thing about singing?
MK: Most difficult think about singing is that it is very competitive, expensive, and that many in the process like to discourage you by telling you that you aren't made for it or that you aren't good enough, while in reality you will only know how good you are if you tried and not give up, not because someone told you their opinion. I have seen singers with phenomenal voices who did not succeed and those with modest voices that have - persistence and perseverance is most important, as much as is the hard work and trusting yourself as you know yourself better than anyone else you meet in your professional life.
TVF: What is the most gratifying thing about singing?
MK: Most gratifying about singing is SINGING- or doing what you love doing as it doesn't' feel like WORK.
TVF: What advice do you have for aging singers?
MK: For aging singers my advice is - fortunately if by than you have already made some kind of carrier, there is always education and teaching that one can turn toward and give your best in that filed too. We all need good, honest, dedicated, giving and caring teachers! And your students' success will keep you happy, fulfilled, and still connected with your love for music/art.
TVF: What advice do you have for child singers and their parents?
MK: Advice I have for parents of young singers is: make sure to find a good teacher from the very beginning for your child, do your 'homework'/ research well...It is much more difficult to beat old bad habits in singing if your child worked with a teacher that was not so good. You will spare yours and your child's energy and time by making sure your child is educated by a person who knows what he/she is doing as singing isn't ''just'' singing....
TVF: Who are your favorite singers/performers?
MK: My favorite singers to listen to are of course my own teacher, Biserka Cvejic, Franco Corelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo (as tenor), Lucia Pop, Janet Baker, Irina Arhipova, Cesare Sieppi, and many more...
TVF: What sparks “joy” for you as a person?
MK: What sparks joy for me as a person - I LOVE to dance, maybe even more that singing in a way as it has always been only my hobby. I love salsa, bachata, tango, samba, and all other Latin dances. I also love to see my students excited about singing, when they build their knowledge and succeed in their goals. Their enthusiasm is contagious and trilling