‘There’s something magical about it’: Opera in the Ozarks alumna returns to teach master class
Nina Hinson has learned a thing or two since her days at Opera in the Ozarks, and she’s happy to share her wisdom. Hinson, who attended the camp in 1958, returned Thursday, July 5, to teach a master class on performing.
Hinson remembered what brought her to the camp, saying she won a Texas state vocal competition and the first prize was spending the summer at Inspiration Point.
“Here I was, just a junior in high school and I thought I was going someplace really exotic over to Arkansas,” Hinson said.
She met one of her best friends at the camp, Hinson said, and they were both from Texas. That’s when Alaska joined the United States, making Texas the second-largest state in the country.
“People made our lives hell,” Hinson laughed. “They teased us about it.”
Everyone slept in a barn with no air conditioning, Hinson remembered, and performed in an open-air theater. When the Fourth of July rolled around, she asked if anybody was going to barbecue. One of her friends cleaned up a metal frame for the occasion.
“He scrubbed it and barbecued 100 hot dogs on it,” Hinson said. “Those are the fun memories, and, of course, the performances.”
Her experience at the camp helped her learn how to perform, Hinson said, and she’s grateful for it.
“I always got a lot of compliments for my acting ability, and I learned it here that summer,” Hinson said. “When you’re in high school, it’s hard to throw your arms around. They encouraged me that’s what I needed to do to be an opera singer.”
She continued, “They say one of the reasons you become an actress is you get to be somebody you don’t get to be in real life. I grew up feeling I wasn’t the most attractive or the prettiest. I was always chubby.”
She gained confidence through performing, Hinson said.
“I love being the center of attention. Everybody loves to be applauded and brought flowers,” she said. “I just like being an opera singer.”
Her advice for young singers is to never stop learning. Hinson said it’s OK to find a new teacher if you need to, saying she worked with a teacher in college who “went a little crazy.”
“I lost my voice. I kept telling her my voice is tired. It ached,” Hinson said. “Well, I wasn’t doing the right thing. I moved to a different part of the world and found another teacher. I learned to appreciate my voice, and I’ve learned to help singers in trouble.”
She continued, “Sometimes, it’s just saying, ‘Don’t sing that piece of music. You’re not ready for it.’ You always need to find a teacher. You can’t drive a car forever without having it tuned up. If you don’t feel your voice is going well and you don’t get answers, you need to go someplace else.”
The best part of the camp, Hinson said, is how much feedback singers get. College students generally work with a voice teacher and sing in a choir, Hinson said, but that’s not how it works at Opera in the Ozarks.
“Here, you’ll get 15 different opinions. If 10 people tell you you’re pushing, chances are you’re pushing your voice,” Hinson said. “It’s a life-changing experience.”
When it comes to opera, Hinson said, collaboration is key.
“It’s about getting along with your colleagues. The theater doesn’t have time anymore to put up with … temperamental people that cost you time, that create ill will among singers,” Hinson said. “You learn to get along with the person who is double cast with you.”
Jim Swiggart, who attended the camp with Hinson and has helped teach singers over the years, said Opera in the Ozarks gives out an award for the best colleague at the end of the summer.
“I think that’s a very good award to give,” Hinson said. “I’m not mean-spirited, and sometimes I’d like to be, but I’ve learned it doesn’t do any good. You’d like to say, ‘I sing better than she does. Why does she get opening night?’ Well, you just have to suck it up.”
Since she left the camp, Hinson has sung opera all over the world.
“I’ve sung in a lot of major competitions, with a lot of major opera companies and a lot of major conductors,” Hinson said. “I have been ill all my life since I was 22 with rheumatoid arthritis, but I’ve been singing since I was 14. My last professional performance was when I was 67. I’m 77 now.”
Returning to the camp, Hinson said, helped her celebrate her time there and get some closure. She encouraged everyone in the community to support Opera in the Ozarks, saying she wouldn’t be where she is today without it.
“Show up for performances. Help out financially. They need help. The students need help,” Hinson said.
There’s nothing quite like being an opera singer, Hinson said.
“When you tell people you’re an opera singer, there’s something magical about it. Opera gets that reaction,” Hinson said. “It’s special, and these kids are very lucky to be here.”