I was 13 when I visited Disneyland. I loved this magical place, being surrounded by animated architecture and costumes, being part of an imaginary world, with storytelling and music. It's also why I love opera. I have the amazing privilege of stepping into a different magical world every night.
Studying with world-renowned soprano, Mirella Freni, enabled me to travel around Italy, visiting small villages, and testing church acoustics. One day I was singing Ave Maria in the Pisa Baptistery. People would quietly enter and listen. I was asked to continue singing for two hours by different groups. After each performance, it was so gratifying to see just how they appreciated the power and the passion of each song. You could feel the reverential respect in the air. It was an incredible feeling.
Visiting the breathtakingly beautiful Greece with my cousins was one of the best adventures of my life, especially Santorini and Zakynthos. The crystal blue waters were the stuff of dreams. We ventured to a shipwreck beach only accessible by boat. Our captain pulled into every cave possible and requested me sing Tosca and The Little Mermaid, while my cousin passed a collection hat. It was very funny and surreal at the same time.
My first motherland visit was truly an unforgettable and powerful personal journey. It was a holiday but when some people heard I was coming, they organised a concert. Armenians have a love of opera and Armenian folk songs, so for someone to return to the country and share the same love and passion with them was something they were very grateful for and I felt so very proud to share with them. Visiting the Armenian Genocide Monument for the first time was very emotional. Reading the detailed accounts and seeing imagery of what took place over 100 years ago was heartbreaking. This inspired me to work on the production entitled "An Armenian Journey" in 2016. It was about the life of an orphan, my great grand-mother, who survived the genocide and thrived. The concert was a success and all the proceeds went to charity.
This was my first international travel for opera. I attended an American Summer Program in Tel Aviv. I made new friends, built relationships with teachers and had opportunities that led me to New York when I won the generous Opera Foundation Scholarship. During this time I auditioned for Mannes College, and ended up living in NY for two years. I was introduced to Mirella Freni, who encouraged me to sing under her tutelage. After winning a place in her Bel Canto Studio in Modena, I returned to Sydney and won another substantial grant to study in Italy. So it all worked out. But it all began in Tel Aviv, everything I learnt, the people I made connections with … and the food.
Natalie Aroyan is a principal with Opera Australia and is performing in Aida at the Sydney Opera House until August 31. She will also perform the role of Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg in Melbourne this November. See opera.org.au