Jonesboro native to star in Italian opera production

By Joel Hall


At one time, Jonesboro native and New England Conservatory student, Rachel Holmes, doubted her abilities, due to her small town roots. However, at 21 years old, Holmes is making waves in the world of opera and showing people that you can make it on the world stage, even if you are from a small town.

This Friday, Holmes will leave Jonesboro for Novafeltria, Italy to participate in La Musica Lirica, a five-week training program which acts as a bridge between university studies and the professional world of opera. There, she will study the Italian language, study operatic techniques from Italian masters, and perform the lead role of Susanna in a full-orchestra, full-costume production of "The Marriage of Figaro," during the ninth annual International Music Festival.

"It's kind of that middle step between school and the professional world," said Holmes, a 2005 graduate of Jonesboro High School. "When you're a young singer, you're making the rounds at all of the companies that other people are. This is kind of a special experience ... having that chance to sing in Italy for an Italian audience ... that doesn't usually happen for young singers."

Holmes acceptance into La Musica Lirica comes on the heels of her participation in the Baldwin-Wallace Art Song Festival in Berea, Ohio. After auditioning in New York City in February in front of judges from The Metropolitan Opera, Holmes and a pianist were one of 10 piano-soloist teams selected from around the county to perform at the festival, May 25 to June 1.

Holmes, who sang with the Spivey Hall Children's Choir from the ages of 10 to 18, comes from a musical family. Her father, Bryan Holmes, is the lead drummer for "The Producers," a popular 1980s rock band, which still performs occasionally.

However, Holmes said it was the art education she received in Clayton County Public Schools that inspired her to pursue a career in opera.

"This county is what made me choose what I want to do," said Holmes. "I had a very good artistic education here with the Performing Arts Center and Spivey Hall. I had good mentors here ... I knew [the education] was always high class, but I didn't know it would prepare me for what I am doing now."

Holmes said the community that trained her has also been the one which has supported her. Holmes sang at several local churches over the past few months to raise the money for her five-week stay in Italy. She added that her teachers here are still her biggest supporters.

Martha Shaw, director of the Spivey Hall Children's Choir and a music professor at Shorter College in Rome, Ga., said Holmes has displayed potential since she was 10 years old. Shaw said that when Holmes was a senior in high school, she selected Holmes to perform a major solo during a tour the group did in the Czech Republic and Austria.

Shaw said Holmes performed with "no hesitation."

"I am just so proud of her," said Shaw. "That kind of talent you can see at a very young age, and her ability to concentrate on her love of the music was always evident. I'm really excited about her future and what she is going to be able to accomplish."

Next year, Holmes plans to audition in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the Georgia regional competition taking place at Spivey Hall. Described by Holmes as the "American Idol of opera," the national winner of the competition will win $10,000, national press, and a chance to be put on the roster of a major opera house.

"Hopefully, it will be the next step," said Holmes. "The reason I am doing it around here is because I'll be around my family, and I'll have cheerleaders."