Meet Our Team

About Bel Canto Boot Camp

Bel Canto Boot Camp was born during the pandemic when we reached out to singers around the world – singers who had no place and seemingly no reason to sing. To be honest, we needed to find a way to feed our own souls as well while we were cut off from music making – something we never even considered could possibly happen. We created The Vaccai Project – a unique online training course for singers. Just short of two thousand singers from America to South Africa, from Columbia to Russia practiced together for the day when stages would be open to them again and theaters would be filled with audiences. We discovered a beautiful new way to support singers – beautiful in its inclusivity, its expansion of the richness of the New York opera community to artists all over the world, the breaking of often prohibitive barriers of distance, cost, time and audition-only programs. 

Now, as the world continues to emerge from Covid-19, Bel Canto Boot Camp strives to support artists in the physical world as we did (and continue to do) virtually. The Vaccai project is now available in book form at Amazon. BCBC recently announced a new partnership with Guild Hall of East Hampton: The Guild Hall & Bel Canto Boot Camp Resident Artist Series – a unique training and performance collaboration between operatic superstars, established professional singers, and promising singers still on the verge of an international career. Press release here. In the summer of 2022 BCBC will present its first in person training week in New York City for all members. 

Our online platform allows us to stay in contact when we cannot be there physically – BCBC allows singers, teachers, and presenters to network effectively with each other in the ever growing BCBC community.

Recent collaborations include Cape Town Opera, Peabody Preparatory, Michigan State University, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, San Diego State University, San Diego National Association of Teachers of Singing (US) and The Association of Teachers of Singing (UK).

Rachelle Jonck – Co-Founder

Rachelle Jonck received her musical training at the Conservatory of the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa where she focused on vocal accompaniment, earning a BMus in both piano and musicology. In her native country she was awarded a FNB/Vita award for her contribution to opera in South Africa with special mention of her work with the State Theater Opera Chorus. In 1998 Ms Jonck received the Nederburg Opera Prize – South Africa’s premier opera award. 

In 1998 Rachelle moved to New York City as Head Vocal Coach and Assistant Conductor of Bel Canto at Caramoor. She has served on faculty at Westminster Choir College, Manhattan School of Music, Teatro Nuovo, Palm Beach Opera’s Benenson Young Artist Program, and Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Rachelle’s private coaching studio includes established professionals whose careers take them to the largest opera houses of the world, and younger singers still on the verge of a professional career. Her master class topics, while related to her main study field of bel canto, explore the wider application of the bel canto way of singing. 

Recital appearances in the United States include Weill Recital Hall, Opera America, the Bard Festival, Van Cliburn Concerts (Fort Worth, TX), National Gallery Recitals (Washington, DC), Coastal Concerts (Lewes, DE), and the Dame Myra Hess broadcast concert series (Chicago, IL) Her recording Gabriel Fauré: 30 Mélodies (with tenor Steven Tharp) was released in 2015. As a conductor she most recently lead performances of Rossini’s La gazza ladra (Teatro Nuovo) and Donizetti’s Anna Bolena (Baltimore Concert Opera).

Derrick Goff – Co-Founder

Derrick Goff is an alumnus of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and a current member of the MET music staff. Derrick has recently accompanied art song recitals at the Bruno Walter Auditorium in New York and at Caramoor. He has enjoyed many years of collaboration at Teatro Nuovo, a continuation of the young artist program of Bel Canto at Caramoor, where he is resident as a coach, chorusmaster, and Italian teacher.

Derrick’s conducting and music directing credits include Don Giovanni, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Faust, Idomeneo, and L’elisir d’amore.

In addition to his work as a pianist, coach, and conductor, Derrick holds degrees in organ and voice from Westminster Choir College. 

Derrick is always looking for something new to learn about a foreign language and can often be found with an alarmingly large iced coffee working on the NYTimes crossword.

Steven Tharp – Guided by Voices

Missouri-born tenor Steven Tharp’s operatic credits include performances with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Netherlands Opera, among many other houses. Handel and Mozart are well represented in Mr. Tharp’s repertoire of more than 60 operatic parts, and his keen interest in 18th- and early 19th-century opera has led to many roles in operas of Gluck, Haydn, Scarlatti, Conti, and others. In concert, Mr. Tharp has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra, among others. His concert repertoire includes the Bach, Mozart, Handel, and Haydn masterpieces of the 18th and 19th century and extends to Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Schönberg’s Gurre-Lieder, the Verdi Requiem, and Britten’s War Requiem. A dedicated song recitalist, Mr. Tharp has appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 92nd Street Y, Carnegie’s Weill Hall, venues in Europe, Japan, and South America. His interest in musical theater and cabaret led to his appearance in 3 Tenors in Search of an Act in a sold-out run at Don’t Tell Mama in New York. Steven has recorded for Decca, Delos, Newport, Albany and Naxos, earning a Grammy Award nomination. He has also served as stage director for the Manhattan School of Music and for Caramoor. He lives in Columbia, Missouri with his adorable Westie, Hector, and is Associate Professor of Voice at the University of Missouri.

Dave Ekstrum – Bel Canto Bookshelf & Mentor

Dave Ekstrum studied music theory and composition at Ouachita Baptist University (B.M.) and Baylor University before making the transition from baritone to tenor and becoming a professional singer. Early professional chorus work at Houston Grand Opera and New York City Opera led to solo engagements at the Caramoor Festival, Sarasota Opera, Opera in the Heights, and Cincinnati Opera. His operatic roles include Canio, Pollione, Idomeneo, Florestan, Macduff, Don José, Max, Samson and last, but not least, Siegmund. Awards and prizes include Second Prize in the Liederkranz Foundation Awards for Voice (Wagnerian Division) and a study grant from the New York Wagner Society. He holds an M.M. in vocal performance from CCM and a D.M.A. from the University of North Texas. He currently teaches voice at Southern Arkansas University.

When not singing, teaching singing or conducting a choir, Dave is an avid reader and movie buff.  He also enjoys spicy food, superhero TV shows, and spending time at the beach.

Timothy Cheung – Mentor

Timothy Cheung is a pianist/coach based in Toronto, especially during the quarantine. He is currently the Principal Coach of Palm Beach Opera. He is a graduate of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, the Merola Opera Program, Music Academy of the West, and holds degrees from the University of Western Ontario. He has been on music staff at Houston Grand Opera, and served as the music director for the Opera on the Go! outreach program at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. While at Palm Beach Opera, Timothy attended Rachelle’s brilliant classes and subsequently began working with her and Derrick at Caramoor/Teatro Nuovo. Aside from coaching, he also did the daily schedule, which might actually be harder than playing the piano. It appears he managed to get put some of his high school mathematics and video gaming skills to good use.

During this quarantine, he has been learning more about history around the world and its tendency to repeat itself, which is always so very uplifting.

Bronwen Forbay – Mentor

Hailed by Opera magazine as “At once powerful, radiant, timbrally beautiful, and balanced throughout the range, her soprano is that of a singer at the top of her game”, Durban-born South African Fulbrighter Bronwen Forbay’s operatic successes include critically acclaimed performances of Mozart’s Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, Adina in L’elisir d’amore, Velmyra in the world premiere of Wading Home by Mary Alice Rich, Violetta in La traviata, and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor. Successful in numerous voice competitions, Forbay was awarded the 2007 Standard Bank National Award for Music (a prestigious national South African award whose recipients include Pretty Yende). In Summer 2022, Forbay is presenting at both the National NATS Conference (Chicago, USA) and the International Congress of Voice Teachers (Vienna, Austria). She is a member of the NATS International Advisory Committee. Highly sought after as an Adjudicator and Masterclass Clinician in both South Africa and the US, she frequently serves as an Adjudicator/Master Clinician for the Schmidt Vocal Arts network. Two articles on an Introduction to Afrikaans Diction for Singers coauthored with colleague Dr. Christian Bester were published in the NATS Journal of Singing’s March/April 2022 edition. Dr. Forbay is a Visiting Associate Professor of Voice at Furman University in Greenville, SC. She holds a B. Mus. from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, an M. Mus. from the Manhattan School of Music, an Artist Certificate from the Southern Methodist University, and a DMA from the University of Cincinnati, CCM.

Andrew Garland – Mentor

Andrew Garland has performed numerous recitals at illustrious venues including Carnegie Hall, the New York Festival of Song, the Ravinia festival, college campuses around North America, and internationally in Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey. A champion of American composers, he has premiered new works by Jake Heggie, William Bolcom, Stephen Paulus, Steven Mark Kohn, Eric Nathan, Edie Hill, and Gerald Cohen, and had works written for him by Lee Hoiby, Tom Cipullo, Thomas Pasatieri, and Gabriela Frank. He is a sought-after concert artist, having performed with the orchestras of Atlanta, Washington, Colorado, Nashville, Boston, and Houston, and the Takács, Dover, Amernet, and Deadalus String Quartets. He has sung leading roles at  the Seattle Opera, New York City Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Cincinnati Opera, Minnesota Opera, Boston Lyric, the Bard Festival, and Opera Saratoga, among others. Garland is a member of the voice faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Andy bicycles year round and for the past 28 years has raised funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute through the Pan Mass Challenge.

Madeleine Gray – Mentor

Mezzo-soprano Madeleine Gray was born in New York, but was educated and for many years made her home in the United Kingdom. Her 25-year singing career encompasses a wide range of principal roles across a spectrum of repertoire in opera, operetta, oratorio, and recital, with performances across Europe and the US at companies including Washington National Opera, The Caramoor Festival, Scottish Opera, Baltimore Opera, the National Cathedral, York Symphony, and many others. She has always sustained a concurrent career as a music educator, and is currently the Voice Department Chair at Peabody Preparatory Institute, the pre-college and community division of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.  In 2021, she was named  recipient of the Suzanne Seff Kuff Excellence in Teaching Award. Madeleine has been a teaching mentor with Bel Canto Boot Camp since its earliest days in the beginning of the pandemic, and is grateful for the opportunity to continue building community and sharing bel canto principles  and scholarship with modern singers at every stage of development.

Makeda Hampton – Mentor

Delaware native, Makeda Hampton is a singer, teacher, and arts advocate with over a decade of professional experience in the performing arts. Makeda was an assistant professor of voice at Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL, and currently teaches on the voice faculty at the University of Delaware. Makeda made her solo debuts with Baltimore Concert Opera, OperaDelaware, and the Long Island Concert Orchestra in the 2019-2020 season, and returned to the Metropolitan Opera as an extra chorister for the 2021-2022 season. She has also studied and performed across the United States and Europe, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Austria. Over the course of her years teaching vocal studies, Makeda recognized a need for music spaces that provide equitable access to resources, networking opportunities, and encourage freedom of cultural expression. In 2020, she founded CodaSwitch, LLC, a consulting service that is designed to provide undergraduate voice majors from HBCUs with coachings, mentoring, and graduate school preparation. Makeda credits learning and understanding the Italian Bel Canto style to Rachelle’s first “Singing in Italian” graduate course while a student at Westminster Choir College. She is excited and honored to serve as a BCBC mentor for the next generation of young singers. Makeda earned degrees in voice performance and pedagogy from the University of Kentucky (DMA), Westminster Choir College (MM), and Oakwood University (BM). In her free time, she enjoys cooking, watching reruns of Living Single, and playing Candy Crush.

Melanie Helton – Mentor

Melanie Helton is professor of voice (soprano) and director of the Michigan State University Opera Theatre. She made her international debut as Marietta/Marie in Korngold’s Die tote Stadt at the Brisbane (Australia) Biennial. Her successes include the title roles in Lucrezia Borgia at the Caramoor International Music Festival and Aida with Opera Carolina, as well as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with Caramoor, Opera Carolina, and Lake George Opera Festival. Other roles included Alice Ford, Maddalena, Elsa, Leonora in Il trovatore, and Norma for Teatro ColĂłn, Bogotá. She recorded Ricky Ian Gordon’s orchestral song cycle and flowers pick themselves plus 14 songs with the composer at the piano and “Anxiety Attack: Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Kahane’s Craigslistlieder“. Both are available on Spotify and from Blue Griffin Recording. She holds degrees from Indiana University and the University of Houston. She has spent many happy hours with most of the Vaccai Mentors sharing an occasional adult beverage. This quarantine summer will find her on her back deck obsessing about all things bel canto.

Kimberly Gratland James – Mentor

Kimberly Gratland James, mezzo-soprano, brings more than 20 years of performance and teaching experience to the BCBC team. She has enjoyed an active performance career in concert, recital, and operatic venues. Her performances have been noted for vocal strength, nuance, musicality, and convincing dramatic portrayals. She made her Lincoln Center debut in 2003 in John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music with John Adams conducting the London Sinfonietta and gave both the international and collegiate premieres of Adamo’s Little Women. Ms. James is also an active recitalist having performed with her Love the Fair Day colleagues in the U.S. as well as with the Amiche Duo at regional, national, and international conferences and venues. She is an avid performer of new music and has been involved in numerous premieres of operatic, chamber, and art song repertoire. James earned her DM degree at Indiana University under the guidance of Costanza Cuccaro and serves as the coordinator for the Division of Vocal Studies at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. James is excited to share her love of bel canto singing and Vaccai, and is ever grateful to BCBC for providing a venue for teachers to remain students and students to feel empowered within a supportive community. 

Nicholas Simpson – Mentor

Nicholas Simpson has been praised by Opera News for his performances which “immediately seized attention with his full-bodied, brightly projected voice.” An award winning tenor, Nicholas’ singing has taken him to all seven continents in repertoire stretching from Broadway to opera. His roles include Cavaradossi in Tosca (Maryland Symphony), Charles II in Prince of Players (Little Opera Theatre of NY), Tannhäuser (Apotheosis Opera), Kronprinz in Silent Night (Fort Worth Opera), Paul in Korngold’s Die tote Stadt with Cleveland Opera. Cleveland Classical noted that he was “splendid as Paul, negotiating a punishingly high and demanding vocal line with strength and agility.”

In July of 2021, Nicholas made his Lincoln Center debut as Almaviva in the Il barbiere di Siviglia with Teatro Nuovo, and was praised by the New York times for his “bright sound and expansive lyricism ,” and by Opera Wire as a “fantastic young tenor at his best, combining compelling acting with technical virtuosity.” This summer, Nicholas will sing the tenor solos in Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music and Mozart’s Missa Brevis with the New England Symphonic Ensemble at Carnegie Hall,  and will return to Lincoln Center with Teatro Nuovo to sing Paolo Erisso in Maometto II.