The National Children’s Chorus invites singers to join us for our annual opera camp held each summer in August! Information for Summer 2024 coming soon.

Our 3rd Vail Opera Camp will be held at the base of the Rocky Mountains from Tuesday, August 1st through Friday, August 11th, 2023. Don’t miss your chance to learn about the art of opera and perform in a final staged production with talented young singers from around the country!

2023 Opera Camp Curriculum:
  • Daily musical training with Principal Conductor Dr. Allan Laiño and Artistic Director Luke McEndarfer
  • Stage direction led by Opera Program Director & GRAMMY® nominee Johnathan McCullough
  • Acting seminars led by Dylan F. Thomas
  • Interactive masterclasses & prop building
  • Live performance on Thursday, August 10th, of "The Tinker of Tivoli", a bold and comedic youth opera with music by legendary composer Rossini
  • Conducting Fellowship & Directing/Stage Management Fellowship opportunities
  • Fun summer outdoor activities in and around the iconic Vail Village
  • Special dinners, daily swimming, fireside hangouts, and so much more!

Students ages 10-18 will learn about opera performance and acting from our master clinicians, with over 35 years of experience working in top opera houses around the world, while gaining skills and experience to build their confidence as developing musicians. Culminating in a live staged production at the stunning Avon Performance Pavilion, participants will also enjoy thrilling activities in the beautiful outdoors of Colorado!

Fellowship Program: Conducting and Directing/Stage Management
Students in this program work one-on-one with our experienced staff, gaining professional experience and guidance in particular areas of focus. Fellowships are designed to give students practical skills that can be called upon in collegiate programs and professional companies.

Conducting Fellowship
The Conducting Fellowship program is an intensive apprenticeship opportunity for aspiring conductors. The program is designed to provide students with a strong foundation in the art of opera conducting. Conducting Fellows will have the opportunity to:

1) Work closely with our experienced conducting faculty throughout the duration of the camp, from the first rehearsal to the performance.
2) Receive instruction in score study, rehearsal technique, and conducting technique.
3) Gain experience on the podium, conducting soloists and choristers in scene rehearsal.
4) Build skills and gain experience in areas typically reserved for graduate level coursework.
5) Take notes for the maestro during rehearsal.
Directing/Stage Management Fellowship
The Directing Fellowship gives high school students the unique opportunity to work side by side with our directing staff during the camp in addition to being involved in the production process in the weeks leading up to the camp. The time spent being involved in the production process leading up to the camp will be held virtually.

1) Assist with production needs and get first hand experience with putting a production on stage.
2) Learn how to take staging notes.
3) Gain experience in calling a show.
4) Receive instruction on the technical aspects and how to manage a production.
5) Assist with the build of sets and props.
I am never going to forget this experience! As someone who has never been in an opera or musical, never acted in anything, I was so intimidated. But after coming here and feeling so embraced and having so much fun, I want to go off and do more of this. It's so special.
Athena A.
NCC student since 2013
Personally for me, this experience was life-changing. I seriously don't know what I will do with myself if I can't do this for the rest of my life!
Isabelle B.
NCC student since 2018

Meet the Team

Johnathan McCullough, Opera Program Director
GRAMMY® nominated baritone and director, Johnathan McCullough recently premiered his production of David T. Little’s Soldier Songs produced by Opera Philadelphia which was nominated for an International Opera Award and won the Artistic Creation Prize at the inaugural Opera America Awards for Digital Excellence. The film is currently streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel as well as Marquee TV. He will make his Canadian directing debut this season with the Atelier lyrique of Opéra de Montréal in a program titled “Emily” centered around works written by Emily Dickinson, co-created by conductor and pianist Christopher Allen.

He has sung leading roles at Opera Philadelphia, Komische Oper Berlin, English National Opera, Opéra de Lausanne, English National Opera, Portland Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and many more. Johnathan was selected by Renée Fleming to take part in the Weill Institute Song Studio at Carnegie Hall where he has also performed in concert.

He holds Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees and an Artist Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music and has been engaged as a guest speaker with institutions including Yale, Curtis, UCLA, Mannes Opera, YoungArts: The National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, Pacific Opera Victoria. . As a director, McCullough’s work has been noted as “A pacesetter for cinematic opera” -The New York Times.

Dylan F. Thomas, Opera Program Manager
Dylan F. Thomas is the Co-Founder of Valley Opera & Performing Arts in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, currently in its 17th season, where he has directed unique and groundbreaking productions of countless operas and concerts.

For the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa, CA, Thomas has written and directed numerous shows for the Family Musical Mornings series, including A Halloween Spooktacular, Superheroes!, and scripted introductions to Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Mozart’s The Magic Flute. He also wrote and directed a Casablanca-themed show for the Pacific Symphony’s prestigious annual Gala.

Mr. Thomas directed the semi-staged concert Opera Under the Stars at Orange County’s Opera Pacific which featured superstars Ana Maria Martinez, Quinn Kelsey, and Christian Van Horn performing operatic favorites with the Opera Pacific Orchestra under the baton of Maestro John DeMain. Thomas worked as the resident outreach stage director at Opera Pacific, where he staged the educational outreach show entitled Fun With Opera, and directed The Tinker of Tivoli for their Opera Camp program, for which he also acted as Program Director.

Mr. Thomas directed a new production of Pagliacci at Opera Fairbanks in Alaska, where he collaborated with Music Director, Gregory Buchalter, who also conducts at the Metropolitan Opera and around the world. Mr. Thomas is one of the creators of a brand new American Opera entitled Marie’s Orchard, for which he conceptualized the story, penned the libretto, and directed the world premiere production.

As a singer and actor, Thomas has performed extensively in the operatic, musical theater, jazz, and theater genres. Notable opera roles include Cavaradossi (Tosca), Alfred (Die Fledermaus), Alfredo (La traviata), Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly), and Don Jose (Carmen). For ten months during 2006, Thomas was engaged as a performer in three different variety shows at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. There he performed not only opera repertoire, but musical theater and jazz as well. He was the tenor soloist in the holiday spectacular, A White Christmas Carol, seen by upwards of 40,000 people each performance, in addition to an operatic street theater show, and various holiday jazz shows.
Ashley Milanese, Opera Program Coordinator
Lauded for her "soaring lyric soprano capable of heart-stopping soft effects” (Philadelphia Magazine), Italian-American Ashley Milanese is quickly emerging as an exciting young presence in the operatic world with appearances at The Metropolitan Opera, Teatro Regio Torino, Komische Oper Berlin, Opera Phildelphia, Mostly Mozart Festival, Opera Omaha, New Orleans Opera, Ljubljana Festival, Adelaide Music Festival, and more.

In the 2021-22 season, Ms. Milanese returned to Teatro Regio Torino as the High Priestess in Aida, covered Johanna in Opera Omaha’s production of Sweeney Todd and joined the roster of The Metropolitan Opera where she made her debut as Pit Singer - Soprano 2 in Dean’s Hamlet. In 2022-2023, Ms. Milanese recently made her New Orleans Opera debut as the Sandman in Hansel and Gretel and joins On Site Opera as Giorgetta in Il Tabarro in the spring of 2023.

During the 2020-2021 season, she was scheduled to make her role debut as Mimi in La bohème with Teatro Regio Torino (COVID19) where she instead sang Giannetta in L'elisir d'amore and Annina in La traviata.

In her 2018-2019 season, Ms. Milanese joined Komische Oper Berlin’s touring production of Barrie Kosky’s Die Zauberflöte where she sang Erste Dame in Perth (Western Australia), Adelaide (Australia), Auckland (New Zealand), and the Mostly Mozart Festival (New York City). This coincided with a full season as an artist-in-residence with Teatro Regio Torino where she sang the roles of Ines in Il trovatore, Giannetta in L'elisir d'amore, Cugina in Madama Butterfly and Lisa in La sonnambula while also covering Elvira in L’italiani in Algeri and Carlotta/Vespina in Agnese. Additionally, she had the opportunity to perform as Annina in La traviata at the Ljubljana Festival.

Ms. Milanese’s other North American performances included Frasquita in Carmen, Erste Dame in Die Zauberflöte and Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro with Opera Philadelphia where she was an emerging artist from 2016-2018. Additional operatic credits include Dede (A Quiet Place), Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Italian Singer (Capriccio), Manon (Manon), Yvette (La rondine), Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos) and Soeur Constance (Dialogues des Carmélites).

Passionate about contemporary music, Ms. Milanese has collaborated with many composers including Kevin Puts, Rene Orth, Tobias Picker, David T. Little, Daniel Schnyder and Nico Muhly. She has had the opportunity to cover lead roles in multiple operatic premieres including Lola in David Hertzberg's The Wake World and Bess McNeil in Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves. Ms. Milanese was also the original Chan Parker and Aveline Mortimer in Opera Philadelphia’s workshops of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird and Elizabeth Cree, respectively.

Symphonic performances include operatic selections with the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic/Wolf Trap Opera and Mainline Symphony Orchestra, Faure’s Requiem with Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with Allentown Symphony Orchestra.

Ms. Milanese participated in summer festivals and programs including Wolf Trap Opera Studio and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. She was named a winner of the 2018 Opera Foundation competition, receiving the Amber Capitol Scholarship and the residency with Teatro Regio Torino. She has also received awards from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions including being named a winner in the 2017 New Orleans and Puerto Rico district finals.

Ms. Milanese studied at The Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music where she completed her Bachelor of Music, Master of Music and her Artistic Diploma.
Luke McEndarfer, Artistic Director
Luke McEndarfer is a GRAMMY® Award-winning American conductor and one of the most compelling visionaries in the classical music world today. His dynamic career spanning over two decades has been shaped by an unwavering commitment to ambitious innovation, artistic creativity, and musical excellence. Currently, he serves as Artistic Director, President and CEO of the National Children’s Chorus, one of the fastest-growing and most successful youth arts organizations in the United States. His conducting collaborations include work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, American Youth Symphony, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Opera Company, New York City Master Chorale, Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, the Joffrey Ballet, Opera Parallèle, Kronos String Quartet, and Stephen Petronio Dance Company. Over the years, he has prepared choruses and soloists for Gustavo Dudamel, Grant Gershon, James Conlon, Stephen Layton, David Alan Miller, Ibrahim Maalouf, John Rutter, Helmuth Rilling, David Willcocks, Eric Whitacre and the late Paul Salamunovich. To date, his premiere conducting performances include music by Morten Lauridsen, Sharon Farber, James Wright, Sarah Quartel, Stephen Cohn, Thomas Hewitt Jones, Daniel Brewbaker, Sage Lewis, Shawn Kirchner, Paul Gibson, Rufus Wainwright, and Nico Muhly.

In 2004, McEndarfer was appointed director of the acclaimed Paulist Choristers, and in 2008 his dream to create the National Children’s Chorus took flight. Since then, the NCC has grown from only sixteen families in Los Angeles to over one thousand across the country, offering its students cutting-edge training and life-changing musical experiences. Under McEndarfer’s leadership, the NCC has built an unparalleled educational platform, mindfully leading young singers from the age of five, and guiding them through to the college level. McEndarfer’s Senior Division vocalists are GRAMMY® Award-winning, having received music’s highest honor for Best Choral Performance in 2022. Across the nation, they comprise one of the most accomplished youth choruses in the world, with performances at the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Royce Hall, and Walt Disney Concert Hall. International debuts have taken place throughout Europe, including Oxford, London, the Vatican City, Rome, Florence, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Lisbon, Seville, Madrid, and Barcelona; and in Asia, Beijing, Xi’an, the Korean DMZ, Seoul, Tokyo and Kyoto. In the summer of 2023, students will perform in Scotland, Wales and England. In 2020, McEndarfer initiated the building of a new annual opera camp in Vail, Colorado, that would grow to engage developing voices in the art of opera, curated with an extraordinary curriculum designed exclusively for youth education. The program aims to achieve global impact, partly by including new works and commissions staged and performed each year, with the goal of significantly expanding operatic repertoire dedicated for young people.

Though the National Children’s Chorus has been his primary focus the last several years, McEndarfer’s background and experience encompass numerous conducting appearances on both coasts featuring adult choral and symphonic masterworks. Upcoming plans include the launch of new programs within this genre of choral music as a natural extension of his expanding scope of work with the NCC, and deep passion for the full choral repertoire. Equally at home in the studio, he has worked on several motion picture soundtracks, such as Escape from Tomorrow, Snowmen, and Paramount Pictures’ feature film Imagine That, starring Eddie Murphy. Television credits include conducting performances and studio appearances with CNN, CBS, ABC, and Fox, as well as NBC’s former Tonight Show with Jay Leno. McEndarfer has also conducted in performance with Josh Groban, opened for John Legend, and been featured on Entertainment Tonight for the Oscars in 2014. At charity events hosting fashion shows by Oscar de la Renta, he has arranged musical presentations for Princess Charlene of Monaco, former First Lady Laura Bush, and other distinguished honorees. In 2019, McEndarfer was honored with an invitation to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange after conducting the NCC in “Carol of the Bells” on a day the organization was formally recognized for its excellence in nonprofit growth and arts management.

Since the age of six, McEndarfer has studied piano extensively, winning competitions and musical honors with the Music Teachers’ Association of California. He is a two-time graduate of UCLA, holding a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and a Master of Music degree in conducting, the latter with full scholarship under the tutelage of Donald Neuen. Studying privately, McEndarfer has been the conducting pupil of Kenneth Kiesler and Marianne Ploger at the University of Michigan, Lucinda Carver at USC, Simon Carrington at Yale, and the late Paul Salamunovich. September through June, McEndarfer manages a demanding work and travel schedule that requires his presence in all NCC cities of operation.
Dr. Allan Laiño, Principal Conductor & Advanced Studies Director
Dr. Allan Laiño, American Prize winner, is the fourth Artistic Director of the Congressional Chorus. As a second-generation Filipino-American with wide-ranging musical influences, he aims to reshape the landscape of American choral artistry by creating an environment in which all voices can flourish. Laiño has prepared choral ensembles for the National Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop, BSO Pops and Jack Everly, NSO Pops and Steven Reineke, Piedmont Symphony Orchestra, Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, and the Josh Groban Live National Tour. In 2018, he debuted on the Kennedy Center stage as a choral conductor, collaborating with The Philip Glass Ensemble and The Washington Chorus in tribute to honoree Philip Glass at The Kennedy Center Honors. He returned to lead TWC in a choral feature for the NSO Pops holiday concerts. As Assistant Conductor for TWC, he stepped in on short notice to finish choral preparation and serve as substitute chorus master for the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s ARCTICA with the NSO and Teddy Abrams. As Co-Conductor of the Sunday Night Singers in 2012, he earned First Prize at the World Choir Games in the Mixed Chamber Choir Champions Division. He is the 2018 winner of The American Prize—Community Chorus Division, and was a finalist in two categories for the 2020 The American Prize in Composition.

As Co-Artistic Director of DC-based professional ensemble, Bridge, Laiño produced, edited, directed, and sang in America, You’re Beautiful, a short film that merged spoken word and choral music to examine racism in America. The film was selected for the Queens Underground International Black and Brown Film Festival. As a Principal Associate Conductor and Artistic Coordinator with the National Children’s Chorus, Dr. Laiño conducts ensembles in the Senior Division, and supervises a nationwide musicianship program. Laiño served on the choral conducting faculty for the Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art at The Catholic University of America from 2016–2021. He directed the University Singers, who performed annually with the CU Symphony Orchestra under his baton for The Annual Christmas Concert for Charity at the National Shrine, a televised program broadcast worldwide to over 140 countries on EWTN. He is a former member of the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the resident professional chamber choir for which he has also guest-conducted in Masses. He has sung with groups such as Bridge, the Yale/Norfolk Music Festival Chamber Choir, Chantry, The Trinity Chamber Orchestra, the Sunday Night Singers, the Horizon Chamber Choir, and the Pacific Chorale.

Dr. Laiño was a Diversity Fellowship recipient at the University of California, Irvine, earning his Master of Fine Arts degree in choral conducting in 2009 and Bachelor of Arts degree in voice in 2006. He moved to the DMV in 2012 to pursue his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in choral conducting (2015) at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Dr. Kristen Simpson, Principal Associate Conductor & Educational Studies Director
Dr. Kristen Simpson was originally trained as a licensed civil engineer before pursuing advanced music degrees in choral music to facilitate a career change to music. She has taught courses at Santa Ana College, Texas State University and the University of Southern California. Prior to joining the NCC, Simpson was the assistant director and collaborative pianist at Villa Park High School, director of music at La Canada United Methodist Church, director of the Ebell Chorale, and co-conductor of choir at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA). In addition to her work as a conductor, Dr. Simpson is well-known for her keyboard skills and has performed as a collaborative pianist at division and national conventions for the American Choral Directors Association, as well as for the undergraduate and graduate student conducting competitions at the 2015 American Choral Directors Association national convention. In addition to her work with the NCC, Simpson serves as assistant conductor Tonality, a professional choral ensemble based in Los Angeles that focuses on using music to encourage conversations on social justice topics. She also performs with Tonality as a collaborative pianist and completed a term serving on its Board of Directors. Most recently she prepared singers for a collaboration with Kronos Quartet for Michael Abels’ At War With Ourselves, and participated in a private performance for the Second Gentleman of the United States as well as administrators of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Simpson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Cornell University, a Master of Music degree in choral conducting from Texas State University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in choral music from the University of Southern California. While at Cornell, Simpson was one of two students selected as a chimesmaster to play the Cornell Chimes and continues to serve on its alumni advisory council to shape the future of this 150+ year musical tradition on campus.


Tuition Information

2023 Opera Camp tuition is $3795 per camper. Need-based scholarships are available for all qualifying families. The camp package includes:
  • Hotel Accommodations at the Highline Vail Doubletree Hotel
  • Musical training and classes with Dr. Allan Laiño and Luke McEndarfer
  • Staging, blocking, and production design by NCC Opera Director Johnathan McCullough
  • Vocal coaching, acting classes and prop design
  • Curated masterclasses on opera, commedia dell'arte, character study, and Rossini
  • All opera videography, photography and post-production vendors
  • All live performance production elements at the Avon Performance Pavilion
  • Select outdoor activities and excursions in Vail Village
  • All breakfasts and dinners
  • All taxes and booking fees
  • Dedicated NCC Staff throughout the camp
The camp package does not include round-trip airfare to and from Vail, Colorado or lunches.

Our recent performances

  1. Brundibár by Hans Krása, Summer 2021
  2. Odyssey: A Youth Opera by Ben Moore, Summer 2022
  3. The Tinker of Tivoli by Michael Jacobsen with music by Gioacchino Rossini, Summer 2023