Opera singer prepares for a bright future

Thelwell singing 225x150

Finding Her Voice

For Rehanna Thelwell, university life is more than books and libraries. As an opera singer who has already found success as a student, sheet music and stage lights are also a critical part of her education.

Thelwell, a senior music major from Las Vegas, discovered her love for opera in high school when she participated in Solo and Ensemble, a music competition focused solely on opera. 

She chose Northern Arizona University after her choir director, an alumnus of the university, recommended it for its music programs. Upon arriving, Thelwell engrossed herself in opera; thus far, she has performed in six productions and one national competition. This summer, Thelwell competed at the Classical Singer competition in Chicago, a national event featuring performers from high school all the way to the graduate level. Thelwell finished sixth in the nation in Classical Singer’s undergraduate division. 

In addition to gaining valuable performance experiences as a student, Thelwell’s program has also given her accomplished mentors. Deborah Raymond, she says, is her favorite professor because of her prowess at performing dramatic soprano. Additionally, Thelwell says her favorite classes are the ones where she gets to actively perform, interact, and learn from her teachers. 

“The techniques and the details that they have taught me over the years have been so helpful for my future goals,” Thelwell says. “I couldn’t thank my professors enough for the wisdom that they’ve shared with me.”

Embracing the Spotlight

Though it initially proved intimidating, she says she quickly adapted to performing at the university level. Singing in front of the community and performing at national competitions has given her the confidence to pursue her dreams of going to graduate school at Rutgers and performing as a part of the Metropolitan Opera in nearby New York City. During her time here, Thelwell says her favorite operas to perform have been the works of Giacomo Puccini, including Suor Angelica, because she felt they had more complex characters while at the same time allowing her to show off her voice.

“NAU has prepared me for so much already,” Thelwell says. “I actually competed as part of the Classical Singer Vocal Competition, a nation-wide competition. There were over a thousand participants and I made it into the final six of my division. I really do feel it prepared me for the world moving forward.”

Setting the Stage

As she enters her senior year, younger peers seek out Thelwell’s advice because of her success in the program. Since becoming a mainstay in NAU Opera, she has received three scholarships for her work, which include choral, opera, and performance scholarships.

When she enrolled at the university, Thelwell had peer mentors who encouraged her to give her best and enjoy her time here. Now, she fulfills that role for a younger generation and encourages students to take advantage of the faculty’s expertise. 

“Everyone has a fantastic teacher,” Thelwell says. “They go out of their way to make sure that you’re learning and you’re advancing the way that you should. If you really want a good experience and one that’s really going to stick with you, NAU is the place to be.”