Voice Student Finds Magic (and A Familiar Face) at Lincoln Center
Before sheltering-in-place became the new normal, Chasiti Walker (MM ‘19; PGD ‘20) had the chance to sing on the Metropolitan Opera stage as a finalist in the company’s National Council Auditions, a premiere competition for aspiring young opera singers. It was her first time advancing in the auditions. Most don’t make it to the finals. But Walker did and she got to perform two arias—“I Want Magic” from André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire and “Io son l’umile ancella” from Francisco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvrer—to a crowded opera house at Lincoln Center. Among the audience members was her teacher César Ulloa, Chair of the Voice Department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
“He is so supportive,” said Walker. “I mean, he flew to New York [to see me sing] in the finals. That’s amazing.”
She has studied with Ulloa since starting at the Conservatory in 2017. But long before her time at SFCM, prepping for the National Council Auditions, or even before they met, Ulloa impacted the future of Walker’s opera career.
While participating in a voice program in Italy and studying for her second bachelor’s degree in music—her first was in Business Administration—Walker met Jasmine Johnson (PSD ‘19), then a student at SFCM. Later, as she questioned the necessity of another bachelor’s degree, Walker reached out to Johnson. She sent Ulloa a video of Walker singing an aria, and he encouraged her to consider the Conservatory. After some thought, Walker applied to the Master of Music in Vocal Performance.
“César is more than a teacher; he’s a mentor.” —Chasiti Walker, ‘20
“From the first time I heard Chasiti live at her audition for SFCM, I knew she had that X factor—not just a beautiful voice, but a rare inborn ability to move you with her singing,” says Ulloa. “She has made great strides these last three years at SFCM and I am so proud of all of her accomplishments.”
Walker credits Ulloa with shaping her technique—breath management, in particular—and for being such a supportive presence.
“César is more than a teacher; he’s a mentor,” says Walker. “He’s always helpful of anything his students are doing and he’s the kind of person I will keep a relationship with even after I leave [SFCM.]”
Ever a champion of his students, Ulloa was also instrumental in Walker’s decision to compete in the National Council Auditions.
After receiving the encouragement award in the San Francisco District round of the competition last year, Walker had decided to wait a few years before another attempt. Ulloa changed her mind.
“He said, ‘No, you need to do it, because if anything else, it’s good practice for your other auditions coming up,’” says Walker of Ulloa’s motivational and practical advice.
“I looked up at the balcony, and thought, ‘I want those people to hear me.” —Chasiti Walker, ‘20
In January, Walker won the San Francisco District in the competition’s Western Regional Finals. She sang “I Want Magic,” an aria that Ulloa introduced her to—one she continued performing throughout the council audition process, and one for which she feels a personal connection.
“There’s just something about the piece,” says Walker. “The text, I can relate it so much to my life...because pursuing this [opera] career, and the way that I came to it—I think it’s magic.”
She continues, “People used to ask me, ‘Why are you trying to be a singer? You have a business degree,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m just following this path.’ So when I sing [this aria], it’s like I’m telling people, ‘I, myself, want magic’ and this [life] is magic.”
Flying to New York, performing on the Metropolitan Opera stage in both the semi-finals and finals and having Ulloa in the audience—all of that certainly felt magical to Walker. As did the moment she received a special $10,000 award from a private donor who happened to be in the audience and loved her performance. (This is in addition to the award she received for being a finalist.)
“When I got back to San Francisco, I told César that singing on that stage, in that hall, felt like home. I could feel my voice going out [into the house]. I looked up at the balcony, and thought, ‘I want those people to hear me,” she recalls. “It was very euphoric—and it’s definitely something I want to feel again.”
Whenever the time comes for Walker to sing at the Met, Ulloa will probably be there again
—she’ll send her voice to him and thousands of other patrons at every tier of the opera house, witnessing magic unfold in real time.
Find your magic at SFCM.