Studio Artist Program


Opera Santa Barbara is seeking young artists with exceptional career potential and some professional experience for its 2018-19 Studio Artist Program. Members perform and cover roles in mainstage productions, perform in educational and outreach programs, and coach with Artistic Director Kostis Protopapas and guest artists and instructors. Weekly stipend, performance fees, travel stipend, and patron-hosted housing provided.  Studio Artists must have their own vehicle. Live auditions will be held in Santa Barbara on Saturday, September 23, and Chicago on Saturday, December 16. For consideration, please submit one-page resume, a website link or two video or audio clips, and your audition date preference by email to [email protected]. Submission should not exceed 10MB. Artists selected for a live audition will be notified two weeks in advance of the audition date and will be required to pay a $25 audition fee.

Opera Santa Barbara’s Studio Artist Program provides high-level performance opportunities and valuable training to some of the country’s most talented up-and-coming opera singers. These singers work with top industry directors, conductors, and coaches in masterclasses, individual coachings, and public performances including cover and mainstage role assignments. Going into only its seventh year, alumni have gone on to perform roles with companies around the world including the Metropolitan, Washington National, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Sarasota, Fort Worth, and Virginia Operas, and internationally with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opernhaus Zürich, Heidelberg Opera, Hong Kong Opera, Teatro Regio of Torino, Aix-en-Provence, Beijing’s Reignwood Theater and Austria’s Bregenzer Festspiele as well as appearances with the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh Orchestras, the Netherlands Radio Orchestra and the Opera Orchestra of New York.

2017|2018 Studio Artist Participants

Byron Mayes Photo

Byron Mayes


As an Opera Santa Barbara Chrisman Studio Artist, American baritone Byron Mayes recently performed the Guard in Manon and Fiorello in The Barber of Seville. He is a student at the University of California-Santa Barbara in pursuit of both a Masters of Music and a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Vocal performance under the guidance of Dr. Linda Di Fiore. He received his Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance  from Columbus State University where he studied with Professor Earl Coleman. While attending Columbus State, he performed the role of Belcore in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, Bill Bobstay in Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, and Melchior in Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. Following graduation, Byron returned to his hometown of Houston, TX where he performed with the Houston Grand Opera chorus, participating in HGO's productions of Verdi's Otello, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. He has been a part of Opera Santa Barbara's chorus performing in their productions of Bizet's Carmen and Janácek's The Cunning Little Vixen.

Chelsea Melamed photo

Chelsea Melamed


Recognized for her dramatic commitment and commanding stage presence, mezzo-soprano Chelsea Melamed is quickly making a name for herself as a young classical vocalist. She recently covered Rosina for Opera Santa Barbara's production of The Barber of Seville. She has been described as being "as delightful as one hopes for Cherubino... Her first-act aria captured the breathless perfection of Mozart's portrayal of adolescent emotions" (Pittsburgh Tribune).

In the 2015-2017 seasons she performed with the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music while completing her doctorate in voice performance. With CCM she performed Firdaus Noman in a premier workshop of Perla's Shalimar the Clown (a co-production with Cincinnati Opera). Next she appeared as the Page of Herodias in Strauss' Salome, and Dorothée in Massenet's Cendrillon. She presented two degree recitals focused on the great mezzo-soprano song cycles of Debussy, Montsalvatge, Britten, Grieg, and Dvorak. During her time in Cincinnati she also performed consistently with sacred groups, singing solos in the Rossini Stabat Mater, the Mozart Vespers, and the Bach Cantata BWV 22.

In summer 2015 she was one of four Resident Artists with Pittsburgh Festival Opera, where she debuted the role of Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro). Other roles include Il Paggio (Rigoletto) with Livermore Valley Opera, Arsamene (Serse) with the San Francisco Conservatory Baroque Ensemble, Meg (Little Women) and La Ciesca (Gianni Schicchi) with the San Francisco Conservatory Opera Program, Annio (La Clemenza di Tito) and Cornelia (Giulio Cesare) with the Bay Area Summer Opera Theater Institute.

Chelsea also has performed a variety of comic and dramatic roles, including the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods for the San Francisco Conservatory Musical Theater Department as well as the Lawrence University Conservatory, Adah in Naughty Marietta for College Light Opera Company (Cape Cod, Massachusetts), and Paquette in Candide for the Lawrence University Conservatory.

Chelsea has been named a semifinalist in the Mildred Miller competition, and a finalist in the East Bay Opera League Competition. She has been seen on a variety of Cincinnati and Bay Area stages, including a much-admired performance as the alto soloist in Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass with Marin Baroque. In 2015 she made her New York City debut in an all-Strauss recital with the Cantanti Project.

A 2014 and 2013 CoOPERAtive Fellow and alumna of the Wesley Balk Opera/ Music Theater Institute, Chelsea received her bachelor of music degree from the Lawrence University Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin, and her master of music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music under the tutelage of Daniel Mobbs and Barbara Honn. She then went on to pursue her doctorate studies at CCM under the tutelage of Tom Baresel.

Elle Valera photo

Elle Valera


As part of the Chrisman Studio Artist Program, Soprano Elle Valera recently sang Poussette and covered the title role in Manon and Berta in The Barber of Seville, and previously covered the roles of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira for the company's 2015 production of Don Giovanni. She is a recent L.A. District Winner and Western Region Finalist for the Metropolitan Council Auditions, and was a 2017 fellowship student at the Aspen Music Festival, where she covered the roles of Feu, Princesse, and Le Rossignol, and sang in the chorus of L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. In previous years, she was an Apprentice Artist with Central City Opera, where she performed the roles of Madame Herz in The Impresario and Sarah in The Ballad of Baby Doe, taking home Central City’s McGlone Guild Award for outstanding performance.

Elle attended UCLA on a full scholarship as a Graduate Opportunity Fellow and received her master’s degree in music from the Herb Alpert School of Music in 2014. While attending UCLA, she sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, the title role in Il Segreto di Susanna, and a central role in a staged production of Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Elle additionally served as the soprano soloist in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony with the UCLA Philharmonia, and continues to perform regularly across Southern California as a soloist, most recently in conjunction with the Getty and Hammer Museums, and Symphony Irvine.

Ms. Valera holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of California, Irvine, and is the recipient of several awards, including the 2016 Pasadena Opera Guild Young Artist Award and an Encouragement Award from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Council Auditions in 2014. Beyond opera, Elle is a plus-size model represented by Bicoastal Management and an Instagram influencer and blogger, promoting body positivity and diversity.

Jonathan Walker-VanKuren photo

Jonathan Walker-VanKuren


A native of Rome, Pennsylvania, tenor Jonathan Walker-VanKuren holds a master’s degree from Michigan State University and a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, both in vocal performance. While at MSU, Mr. Walker-VanKuren received the 2016-17 Mackey Scholar of Vocal Music Endowment, which is awarded to one exceptional vocal graduate student each school year. His operatic performances include appearances as Martin in The Tender Land, Leon in Signor Deluso, Reverend Eager in A Room With a View, and, most recently, Basilio in Le nozze di Figaro. Mr. Walker-VanKuren made his Beethoven 9 debut with the Livingston Symphony Orchestra as the tenor soloist. He recently covered the roles of Des Grieux in Manon and Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville for Opera Santa Barbara.

2017|2018 Studio Artist Coaches

Photo by David Bazemore