Melody Zhuo’s affinity for music appeared early in life. She learned to play the piano at an age when most kids are just beginning to learn their ABCs. But it was originally only a hobby.
“I got my English name Melody because when I was very little I liked to dance, and I started playing piano when I was four,” she said. “I’ve always loved music. I think it’s integral to our daily lives, and it really brings people together in very meaningful, powerful ways.”
She didn’t even really know she could sing until she arrived at Carolina to study music a few years ago. She initially focused her undergraduate studies on the piano, but attending musicals at Carolina Performing Arts inspired to try voice lessons with UNC-Chapel Hill lecturer Timothy Sparks.
“She announced to me in a lesson one day that she had ‘an idea’ for her future study as a music major … to switch her focus from piano to voice,” Sparks said. “Melody possesses a beautiful, full lyric soprano voice with real potential to pursue a professional singing career, and it is exciting to witness her steady artistic growth.”
Now, the summer before her senior year, Zhuo is performing in operas for audiences across Italy, singing some of Giacomo Puccini’s most famous compositions.
The Tar Heel’s talent earned her a spot in the prestigious 2019 Si Parla, Si Canta program, which trains young musicians in Italian language, repertoire, culture and musical style.
With financial support from the Center for Global Initiatives, she traveled to Arona, Italy, where she is spending eight weeks developing the endurance and discipline necessary to perform with a professional company.
“The rehearsals can be grueling, but I’m learning so much about my own singing, as well as how to come alive on stage, because it really is about bringing forth the story and creating something meaningful for the audience,” she said. “It’s been very rewarding, both emotionally and artistically. I’m really starting to see what the highest level could be and what I could aspire to.”
Between daily Italian language classes, vocal coaching sessions and performances at hospitals, churches, theaters and orchestra halls, Zhuo is getting to know a new group of peers from around the world, including several internationally acclaimed musicians.
“I’m learning how to be freer and more confident on stage, interacting with fellow singers versus just sitting behind a keyboard,” she said. “It’s a different experience.”
At first, her vocal performances in Italy came with some nerves and self-doubt. But the daily practice helped Zhuo overcome her fears. Now when she steps on stage, whether in a serious role in Suor Angelica or a comedic role in Gianni Schicchi, she does so with confidence.
“One takeaway I have lately is that confidence comes from doing,” she said. “Music making is always imperfect. If it’s perfect, it might as well be engineered. It’s not about messing up. It’s just about performing my best at every single show and sharing something from heart to heart.”
After graduation, Zhuo plans to pursue graduate studies in music and audition for a young artist program — doors she credits Carolina for opening through the opportunity to learn in Italy this summer and harnessing her newfound passion for vocal performance.
“I have really enjoyed becoming stronger as a person through this experience,” she said. “I didn’t know I was capable of surpassing those challenges and pushing past what I thought my limits were.”