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Meet Michele Patzakis

Posted on: August 19, 2022

At the intersection of arts and health, you can find LA Opera Connects and all of their programs that use music to promote healing for the mind and body. You’ll also find the incredible teaching artists who make these programs possible. Who are some of these operatic makers, you ask? Michele Patzakis, DMA, is one of our longtime collaborators. She’s been bringing music into healthcare settings with us for nearly a decade. 

Michele has not only lent her renowned voice to Connects performances, she also utilizes her background in vocal medicine and research in Opera for Life and Wellness, a program she co-created and co-leads with teaching artist Nani Sinha. This initiative, in partnership with UCLA Health, serves patients experiencing “long-haul” COVID-19 and the symptoms that come along with it, such as breathlessness and fatigue. 

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LA Opera Connects teaching artist Michele Patzakis.

“As told by one of the class participants, it is a lot more enjoyable to sing a song or hum through a straw than it is to use a complicated medical device,” Michele said. “Taking the exercises out of the medical setting and modeling the exercises are powerful. Every week we hear the testimonials from the participants and how the program is a highlight for them. We create a safe space to try new tasks and empower them to engage in their rehabilitation with some joy. Nani and I share our techniques to aid with breath control and good voice and it’s fun when you see their faces light up and it works for them. It is also a testimony to the interdisciplinary teamwork when they can share their struggles, admit health setbacks, and feel supported.” 

The excitement that Michele has for bringing opera to others stems from her lifelong and diverse career in performance, which began when she was six years old. 

“Whether it was performing in a Greek Folk Dance troop, singing in choirs, or starring in school drama productions, the arts were a vital part of every day of my life. In high school, when I had the chance to join the Young Americans and then America’s Youth in Concert and sing a solo at Carnegie Hall, I knew that I wanted to pursue singing as a career.” 

In her pursuit of music, Michele received her Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance from USC and a Master’s in Music from the New England Conservatory of Music. 

“Following graduate school, I returned to Southern California to be a member of the Opera Pacific Overture Company and did many educational and community outreach performances. So being a part of Connects feels like coming full circle. As much as I have loved performing and singing, I also love to teach and am deeply interested in voice science and medicine. In my doctoral work in Vocal Arts at USC Thornton School of Music, I conducted research in the fields of Music Teaching and Learning and Vocal Arts Medicine. The projects with Connects beautifully combine these disciplines.” 

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LA Opera Connects teaching artist Michele Patzakis.

This past season, Michele was able to take her expertise in music and healing one step further for LA County’s inaugural Arts and Health Week. Serving as project coordinator, Michele identified partners in all five county supervisorial districts. These organizations collaborated with Connects to showcase their programs and initiatives promoting wellness through artistic engagement and expression. 

“I am very proud of this city and our opera company, which has been visionary in its community work. And I have long admired LAO’s partnerships with hospitals and healthcare programs which use singing to promote wellness - like for people with Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injuries.” 

The effects of these programs can be felt on a personal level as well. “One of the spotlighted organizations was Lineage Performing Arts Center. They offer a specialized dance class for adults with neurological challenges. Coincidentally, my parents attended the class as part of my mother’s Parkinson’s treatment. It was a joy to highlight their work and experience the class myself,” Michele shared. 

Michele firmly believes that music and connection are more important than ever. Not only can movement and breathing exercises improve one’s physical health, but singing along to familiar songs and listening to live music can also help someone feel uplifted and less isolated.  

“Our voices are available to all, so singing is an ideal way to benefit many. Additionally, with an increasingly aging population, finding sustainable ways to promote good health is a growing field. I am confident that Connects will continue to be a leader in this area and bring further attention to the healing power of opera!”