A SINGER’S LAST DAYS AT HOME

Lots of Music Academy of the West young artists view their time at the Montecito campus to be something of a formative period in their lives. After all, two months of intensive study, practice and performance at the summer music festival when you’re on the cusp of turning professional can go a long way towards furthering a career goal.

But when Evan Hughes says he grew up at the Music Academy, he’s not speaking metaphorically. No, the 22-year-old bass singer literally was raised right here on the Miraflores campus. His father, Alan Hughes, is the buildings and grounds manager at the Music Academy who met Evan’s mother, soprano Agatha Carubia, when she was studying here back in the early 1980s. They dated, fell in love, got married and Evan was born a couple of years later. He’s spent his entire life on the campus, and knows every nook and cranny of the place, from the best acoustic spots in the music halls to the secret hiding places amid the vegetation.

“I used to climb that tree right there every day,” he says, pointing to the huge fig tree casting shade over the picnic tables we’re sitting by, astride Abravanel Hall, site of many a pre-concert meal during the season. “I can show you where some of my best forts were,” he adds.

But Evan has little time for such playful pursuits these days, now that he’s graduated from UCLA with a degree in music. Although he’s spent his entire life here – he attended the Waldorf School, Santa Barbara Middle School and Santa Barbara High School – before going to Los Angeles to college, he just has the few remaining weeks of the summer to once again enjoy his home at Miraflores before heading east to Philadelphia to pursue a masters at the prestigious Curtis Institute.

We talked about his Montecito past, his time at the Music Academy and his plans for the future on a warm July afternoon.

Q. Tell me the story from the beginning, if you would. How did your parents meet?

A. My mom is an opera singer who trained at Julliard. She came to the program in 1980. My dad had moved over from Wales and was the gardener here. They met and fell for each other, so she ended up staying in Santa Barbara. My mom went to the program a few summers, including when she was pregnant with me. My dad’s been working here for thirty years, and he kept getting promoted until his got his current position, and we lived right here on campus. My parents divorced when I was eleven, and my mom has lived in various places in Santa Barbara; she’s in Montecito now. She’s a voice teacher, and she has about forty students. She was my first voice teacher too. (Carubia sings Puccini at the Arts & Letters Café’s “Opera Under the Stars” on July 27.)

So you grew up surrounded by music.

Yeah, my mom was always singing, and I was completely obsessed with her, even to the point where I was defensive. My friends would hear her singing and thought it was screaming, like most kids do. But I never had an aversion to opera at all. I always loved her singing. As long as I can remember I’ve been hearing music, especially the music that was coming out of this place. So I started singing too when I was very young; I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember.

It sound like you knew as a kid that this is what you were going to do.

Well, I was really interested in acting in high school, but what resonated with me the most was music. I sat in on all the orchestra rehearsals, went to all the concerts here, but vocal music specifically appealed to me because of my mom.

You don’t play any instruments?

I played the flute, the cello, piano for a few years. I picked up a lot of instruments and put them all down again. I just never wanted to be an instrumentalist. I feel at home when I’m singing. It’s always what I wanted to do. I did have a phase in seventh grade when I thought I was going to be an Indian musician. I experimented with the tabla, and learned a lot of ragas and Indian classical singing studying with Montino Bourbon here in Montecito. Now, I think that helped me a lot in those early stages because it’s a lot of running up and down scales and working in different modes. I was also really drawn to earthy, bluesy music and R&B and jazz. But nothing fascinated me as much as the operas my mother sang when I was young. I loved “La Bohème” the best because she sang Mimi.

I imagine you took advantage of living here and checked out the masterclasses.

I was in every single vocal masterclass every summer from the age of six until fifteen. I hid in the back and left immediately afterwards, never talking to Marilyn Horne or Warren Jones (who have run the vocal program for years). I didn’t want to meet them until I was ready to audition to come here. I had this weird idea of that even as a kid. Then there was a period where I was somewhat rebellious to ever doing the program, but eventually I realized it was so incredible it wouldn’t be smart to miss out. However, I decided as soon as I started singing classically that I wouldn’t audition for the Music Academy until I felt I was really ready. They knew I had grown up here and I didn’t want any favoritism so I waited until I felt I was at the level where I could get accepted on my own.

Now that you’re back as a student, how is it different?

It’s wonderful. I’m so thankful that I get to be in this incredible learning environment that for me is also my home. I always looked up to the students when I was a kid, just fascinated at how talented they were. So I feel a lot of satisfaction, inspiration and joy at getting to be a part of the program that I’d always aspired to.

But how is it for you to be physically back in your home, yet now as a pre-professional yourself?

It triggers a lot of memories just being around here again. It’s such a beautiful campus. When I was a little kid, it provoked a lot of creativity and adventure. I had forts in all the bushes; I still have a bunch of secret places. I went to the beach every day, because it’s right there – Butterfly at first until it got inhabited by UCSB and tourists, which made me defensive and angry so I moved off to Miramar and Hammonds.

So do you feel like you’ve had something of a head start here because you’ve been around it all your life?

Oh, sure, definitely. I was exposed to all these ideas when I was really young, so it was second nature for me to start. I’m sure much of it fizzled into me as a child. But I’ve still worked really hard as I’ve started to become independent as a singer.

What are the masterclasses like for you now?

It’s interesting because singing is an all-encompassing physical activity. Like an athlete you have to be able to obtain complete relaxation throughout your entire body, but also full activation: you need to be able to use your whole body so that your throat doesn’t do all the work. It’s about resonance, placement, breathing, repetition – all of which strengthen your voice. The coaches here are so great with that, and they really help with repertoire, what to sing and how to sing it. When we know what we’re going to sing, we spend a lot of time figuring out what it is that we’re singing. Translating it. Understanding the poem and the poet. Then learning the music, and being coached in it with all the instructors.

Last year I grew more within the summer at the academy than I ever had as a singer or even a person in music. It’s very intensive. Fred Carama, the voice teacher here, taught me so much. Being so focused for two months, practicing and learning music, you can’t help but grow so much. I felt at the end of last summer that I finally felt like I knew more about what I was doing as a singer, and how to go about it.

Why are you going to grad school rather than starting your career?

I’m not ready to sing opera professionally. I still need some time to cultivate my voice and continue learning and growing. Also, the male voice takes a little longer to mature, physically as well as intellectually. (Music Academy Opera Scenes director) Lotfi Mansouri says the information you learn and what you acquire is your reservoir and you constantly need to replenish it. I just don’t feel like I’m full enough yet.

Do you know what you want to do when you finish at Curtis?

I just want to be able to sing and make art out of my life. Making music is one of the most incredible things humans can do. And what art does for humanity is really beautiful too, and I want to be a part of that. Classical music is not understood for its genius and importance, so I want to be some kind of instrument in spreading the news about why it’s so incredible.

And more specifically: do you want to work for an opera company? My ideas need to stay general. But my voice is classical; it’s operatic. So if I can sing opera, especially new opera, that would be what I would love the most. I’m also passionate about art song recitals. I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen. I just want to keep singing. There are many ways to start a career. It depends on what you want out of it.

Might you turn to teaching, like your mom did?

No. I like to perform too much. Maybe I’d like to teach once my career is over.

So are you ready to be leaving Montecito for good?

A little sad, yes. I know that my musical life will have to be on the East Coast. But I’ll always feel that Santa Barbara is my home. My family is here, my friends are here, my community is here. It will always be home for me.

(Evan Hughes will perform during vocal masterclasses on July 25 [with Heinz Blankenburg] and August 8 [Marilyn Horne], and during the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition on July 22, where he earned one of only two Encouragement Awards last year. He also has been cast in the role of Lord Sydney in the Music Academy’s 2006 full opera production of Rossini’s “Il Viaggio a Reims” at the Lobero Theatre on August 4 & 6.)