About a month before their week-long residency at Caramoor, we caught up with our five Rising Stars — in between their rehearsals, gigs, auditions, and classes — to ask them for a few details about their personal lives, such as their go-to weeknight meals, late-night streaming habits, early-career concert catastrophes, pre-performance superstitions, social causes they feel strongly about, and other factoids to help you get to know them a little bit.
Each week we will be sharing some fun stories and facts about our 2023 Schwab Vocal Rising Stars! Starting on March 6th, they will be rehearsing and living at Caramoor up until their performance on March 12th. We hope you will join us!
This week we are introduced to soprano Shelén Hughes!
Peeking into Shelén Hughes’ window at around noon today, you wouldn’t guess that she’s performing a recital tonight. In fact, her daily routine is similar to yesterday’s. That’s because she purposely treats performance days just like any normal day, a wise tactic for managing expectations.
As a teenager, her expectations of leaving her hometown of Cochabamaba, Bolivia to study voice at a conservatory in the United States were not extremely high, especially since she had been trained in Bolivian folk singing, not classical. She admits she did a decent job imitating “the real” opera singers for her Manhattan School of Music audition video. In 2014, she touched ground as an undergrad in uptown Manhattan and never looked back.
Though high poverty and low education rates are prevalent in Bolivia, Shelén was fortunate to attend a special bilingual school while growing up, which was owned and operated by her parents and aptly named The Hughes School. The school has a robust performing arts division and seeks to promote strong work ethics and global understanding.
Recognizing how blessed she was to be able to pursue her dreams, Shelén started her own non-profit organization in the States, Voices for Bolivia, to make a difference for those in Bolivia who are not as fortunate.
These days, Shelén has a lot to sing about. She’s getting married in May to Luke, a trumpet player she met in 2018 at the Chautauqua Institution while playing Micaëla in Carmen. Their nuptial plans include an intimate ceremony at the Vatican (yes, the one in Rome! … apparently all you need is some good documentation) and a honeymoon to Croatia.
Had Shelén not become a professional singer, she likely would have become a baker. And she got a good taste of that alternate life during the pandemic when she put her whisk and entrepreneurial spirit to work. With her sister Jhorcy, an artist with a knack for decorating frosted sugar cookies, she started Sweet Nina’s, a cookie business named after the family dog.
While the cookies were indeed sweet, she was happy to return to her singing career. Asked why she sings, she shares, “I really believe that beautiful art can change the world, change people, and bring beauty into peoples’ lives.” Note to Shelén from Caramoor’s admin team: we totally agree, and we await the beauty of your song (but can you bring cookies, too?).