An opera powerhouse’s way to honor her late grandfather

By Kaitlyn McCormick

To transform an interest into a passion is one of the most rewarding feelings, but for sophomore music education major and opera singer, Sienna Grinwald-Alves, music permeates every daily life.

Not only is Grinwald-Alves a student at Westminster Choir College (WCC), but she helps her family’s foundation supporting kids in the arts, runs her own vocal studio and has even been contacted by the Metropolitan Opera for her talent.

Grinwald-Alves was originally on a dance track and didn’t always intend to pursue music. However, her grandfather was adamant that she would follow in his footsteps. “He always told me, ‘You’re gonna sing one day,’” Grinwald-Alves said. Though she was hesitant at first, with the support of her grandfather — an opera singer himself — vocal performance slowly moved to the forefront of Grinwald-Alves’ life.

“He wanted to hear me sing this song called ‘Caro Mio Ben,’ and I did it, and I really, really enjoyed it. So, I think from that point on, I think just listening to the voices of famous opera singers and his voice itself just really brought me to the beauty of opera and how I could be in that place,” Grinwald-Alves said.

Most of her resume credits come from musical theater, Grinwald-Alves said. She spent years performing with groups like Surflight Theater in Long Beach Island and the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, which Grinwald-Alves credits with being one of the more interesting places she’s performed.

“That was one of the first places that I got my EMC card, so my equity membership card, which was really cool, and that was from a really young age. Paper Mill was definitely one of the greatest places that I’ve been to with some amazing people,” Grinwald-Alves said.

After her grandfather passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when she was 13, Grinwald- Alves’s mother and aunt brainstormed ways to honor him and his legacy, before finally settling on the Applaud Our Kids Foundation, which helps fundraise transportation and lesson fees for children who may not be able to afford training otherwise.

“The kids become literally different people from the time that they started from the time that they end for their recital. … It just helps their self-confidence so much, from something that they never thought they’d be able to do,” Grinwald-Alves said proudly.

After working closely with her family’s foundation and directing the youth performance group, Grinwald- Alves realized how much she enjoyed teaching. She now runs her own vocal studio, called Operatunity Performing Arts Centre (OPAC), where she helps students pursue their own passions in the arts. OPAC currently services around 20 vocal students, but Grinwald-Alves hopes to branch out to dancing and acting instruction in the future.

“I realized how cool and individual you can be with a student, and how personal it can be and how their experience can really change their perspective of music,” Grinwald-Alves said. “I remember all of my private music teachers being my guardian angels for myself, literally guiding me through life, and I wanted that opportunity to do that for other children … so opening my studio was a way to kind of formulate that whole system of just helping kids out.”

Music education professor Jason Vodicka, who works closely with Grinwald-Alves, lauded her talent and passion as someone who “certainly stands out in that regard, in terms of her dedication [and] her seriousness.”

Vodicka said, “I think with Sienna in particular it’s been very interesting to work with her as a future teacher, but also as a musician. … In some ways, I feel like I’m working with one of my future colleagues.”

Teaching is not the only career goal for Grinwald- Alves. Her dream is to perform with the Metropolitan Opera, another passion she shared with her grandfather.

Grinwald-Alves said, “The Met has always been a really big dream of mine, and also something that I want to be my reality … not even just the Metropolitan Opera house in New York, but the opera houses in Italy especially.”

Reflecting on her grandfather’s passing, Grinwald- Alves said, “It made me want to [perform at the Metropolitan Opera] even more, to just be like ‘I did this for us.’”

When she was 17, Grinwald-Alves caught the attention of the Met after she auditioned for an ensemble role in the opera “Das Rheingold.” After being offered a spot in the production and going over payment details, the casting team realized Grinwald- Alves’s age was an issue.

“They didn’t realize they put me in the wrong pile, because they thought I was 18 and not 17,” Grinwald-Alves said, explaining that due to her age the production company would have had to hire a child- wrangler. “So, they said ‘call us back when you’re 18, and we’ll try to, you know, see what we can do in our season,’ and then COVID hit.”

While pursuing a degree has pushed this goal back a little further on Grinwald-Alves’ timeline, she is still keeping her eyes on the Met stage.

For now, Grinwald-Alves continues to pursue her passion for music through both teaching and performing and will be playing the lead role in WCC’s spring opera, “Ballymore: Winner.”

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