Performers, like athletes, practice unceasingly, preparing themselves for that chance-of-a-lifetime moment to dazzle an audience and “hit one out of the park.”
In the summer of 2000, Alicia Berneche was fresh from graduate school at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and working in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s apprentice program when that moment came for her. She was selected as the understudy for Grammy-Award-winning American Soprano Dawn Upshaw starring as Daisy Buchanan in the Lyric Opera run of “The Great Gatsby.” When Upshaw was sidelined with a bruised vocal cord, Berneche, a 1989 graduate of Kokomo High School, was suddenly in the spotlight. It was a tricky, demanding role at arguably the second most-important opera house in the United States (after the Metropolitan Opera in New York).
Her performance was a home run -- the Chicago Sun-Times enthusiastically praised “her bright, clear soprano” while the Boston Globe called her out for “an extraordinary piece of acting.” Careers in the performing arts are built on such moments.
Berneche, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music at DePauw University in 1993, started working toward success at an early age. At 6, she was a violinist in the Kokomo Youth Symphony. In her teens she won best actress for her role as Molly Ralston in Kokomo Civic Theatre’s production of “The Mousetrap” and was the first female ever to represent the Kokomo High School Speech Team in national competitions. But the encouragement of a voice coach in high school helped her find a home for her twin loves of music and acting -- in the world of opera.
International acclaim for her Chicago debut was followed in 2002 by the world premiere of “Galileo Galilei” in New York and London (the New York Times said an aria by Berneche was “sung affectingly”). She has since worked steadily and successfully and sung with celebrated conductors and ensembles at many of the world’s top houses. Classically trained in the standard repertoire of opera, Berneche specializes in contemporary opera (she even recently wrote the libretto for a modern work). With a commitment to preparing the next generation of specialists in her art form, Berneche now teaches voice at Glenbrook North High School in Illinois and tutors local and international singers at a private studio in Chicago.