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Salon: Success & the City

Yona Corn ’08, Photograph by Katie DonnellyYona Corn is a lyric mezzo-soprano with a passion for opera and classical musical theatre. Determined to build a career as a performer, Corn faces daunting odds, but she’s been cultivating some essentials, including resilience and a can-do attitude.

You’ve hit a few potholes on your career path. How have they affected you?
In 2009, I was playing Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro with the Amato Opera in the East Village. A boy, Cherubino cross-dresses as a girl. The hem on my dress was too long, and I tripped on stage, fell, and shattered my left [jaw] joint. I had surgery and made a complete recovery, but when you are faced with a potentially career-ending injury, you have a lot of time to think.
I also sing with the Oratorio Society of New York. Last fall, we were invited to perform at the Vatican. The night before we were to leave, I had a 102-degree fever and couldn’t travel. I missed the trip and the performance. But I’ve sung with the society at Carnegie Hall. I’m part of a 200-voice choir for a holiday performance of Handel’s Messiah. Not a moment goes by that I’m not grateful to be there.

How are you broadening your skills?
Recently I was a communications intern for the National Dance Institute, which was founded by Jacques d’Amboise, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. The institute brings dance to schools where kids might not have been exposed to the arts. It was an opportunity for me to experience a different aspect of the arts. The kids were so happy to see the performers. It was wonderful to see artists sharing their skills with a population that needs it so badly. I’m now considering starting my own nonprofit organization.

How has your Barnard education enhanced your work?
It enriched my experience with music. I took a lot of music theory classes; I can place a piece of music in a historical time and analyze it. Now I’m at a point where I can instruct other people.

You don’t speak Italian. So how did you pull off a seemingly effortless rendition of the Italian national anthem at the Columbus Day wreath-laying ceremony at Columbus Circle?
I went to YouTube and did research to make sure I had the current version and the right verses in the right order. I’ve studied classical voice for a while, so I can sing in Italian. I practiced a lot. I met the Italian ambassador who said I did a pretty good job.

What keeps you motivated?
My advisor, Gail Archer [director of Chamber Choir] has always been so supportive. There has never been anyone who’s told me not to go for it, though saying you want a career in the arts can be a very big thing to say. I feel it’s just a question of the right audition at the right time with the right person.

—June D. Bell