by Anielya Wells-Miller
My summer in Italy was a whirlwind of emotions, experiences, and personal growth that will forever hold a special place in my heart. It all began when I received the news that I had been granted the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in a 5-week summer opera Young Artist Program with the Festival of International Opera (FIO) Italia in the small, picturesque town of Urbania. I was cast in two operas, “Suor Angelica” by Puccini and “Don Giovanni” by Mozart, which marked the start of a transformative journey that took me from the audition room to the Italian stage. I auditioned for the program in November 2022 and received my acceptance letter in January 2023. I was filled with the excitement of being accepted into my first overseas opera program, but that was met with the daunting financial obligations that lay ahead. Undeterred, I vowed to give it my all to make this dream a reality. Over the course of six months, I diligently saved money, launched a GoFundMe campaign, reached out to family, friends, donors, and even strangers, and performed at various events to raise the necessary funds. What unfolded was a heartwarming display of support from my community and beyond. Every donation I received was a reminder that this experience was worth all the hard work and dedication. In total, I raised at least $10,000.
Once I finally set foot in Italy, I was ready to embrace every aspect of this incredible journey. The program was a comprehensive one, offering daily Italian classes to help me navigate the local language, transportation to and from performance venues, master classes, voice lessons, musical coaching, and more. As I immersed myself in the program, I couldn’t help but be filled with gratitude for the path that led me here. My days began with Italian classes, Monday through Friday, setting the stage for a deeper understanding of the local culture and language. However, it wasn’t just the classroom where I learned about Italian culture; it was also in little things, like taking trips to Florence to see the Ponte Vecchio (A famous site mentioned in the aria “O Mio Babbino Caro), visiting the beach of Rimini, and exploring Rome. As well as savoring various pasta dishes at Da Doddo and La Braveria. I also indulged in heavenly gelato and coffee at Bar Centrale. I found myself walking the charming streets of Urbania, learning about the town’s traditions, attending the summer festival events, buying items at the weekly market, and forming connections with both fellow musicians and warm-hearted locals such as Lisa, Alessio, Nicola, Luis, and so many others.
One of the most profound aspects of my Italian journey was the connections I made. Through music, I created lifelong bonds with people who shared the same passion. We practiced, performed, and celebrated together. It was in these moments that I discovered the true beauty of music and its power to unite people from different corners of the world. In Urbania, I celebrated my 22nd birthday, surrounded by friends who became like a second family. My grandparents, on their 50th-anniversary vacation, came to visit me, adding a touch of family warmth to this incredible moment. My childhood best friend also joined them and surprised me. The support I received was immense and invaluable throughout. The experience in Italy was not just about self-discovery and bonding; it was about stepping out of my comfort zone. I excelled in a new and challenging environment, which has greatly prepared me for my ongoing pursuit of a Master of Music in Voice Performance at Florida State University. The rigorous opera rehearsals, musical coaching, and voice lessons I attended multiple times a week sharpened my vocal skills, improved my technique, and enhanced my Italian diction. This experience was a steppingstone toward my future in music.
As I reflect on how far I have come, I can’t forget about my humble beginnings. I am so grateful for the people and educational experiences that brought me to this very point in my life. My foundation is strong and was built from being part of my elementary school’s choir and theater club at Miramar Elementary, then matriculating to a world of theater and voice at Parkway Middle School, and then having the best high school experience facing a wide variety of music and performances at Dillard Center for the Arts. At the end of the day, I could not have accomplished any of this without my family and all those who love and support me and believe in my talent.
In retrospect, my summer in Italy was a profound lesson in the value of cultural immersion, the strength of community support, and the transformative power of music. It was a journey that not only enhanced my skills as a singer but also enriched my life with unforgettable memories and cherished friendships. It was a reminder that with determination and a deep passion, dreams can become a reality. My time in Italy was a chapter of my life that I will forever hold close, a melody that will continue to resonate in my heart as I continue my musical journey. None of this would have been possible without the support of my family, donors, and supporters. I would like to give a special thank you to those who went the extra mile to make sure I accomplished my goal with their donations:
- The Black Violin Foundation
- Abbey Chase, The Morris Family Foundation
- Dillard Center for the Arts, DART Foundation
- Clare Vickery, Grace Arts Center
- Episcopal Church Women
- St Christophers Episcopal Church
- The Brothers of the Eta Nue Chapter of Omega Psi Phi
- Joshua’s Heart Foundation
- Claudia McLean and Joshua Williams
- Sindy and Chriss Mulumba
- Fara Castro and Family
- Shanteca and Shawn Olivacee
- Susan Danis
- Gracia Gordon
- Delores James