About

Dana Lynne Varga, Founder and CEO / EM Master Teacher

Dr. Dana Lynne Varga is the Founder and CEO of The Empowered Musician, Founder and Co-Artistic Director of MassOpera, and an accomplished classical singer, voice teacher and career coach.

In addition to maintaining a full private voice studio for over 15 years, highlights of Dana’s teaching career have included seven years on the voice and opera faculty at the BU Tanglewood Institute, two years on the full-time voice faculty at UMass Amherst and two years on the voice faculty at the New England Conservatory Prep school.

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Dr. Dana Lynne Varga is the Founder and CEO of The Empowered Musician, Founder and Co-Artistic Director of MassOpera, and an accomplished classical singer, voice teacher and career coach.

In addition to maintaining a full private voice studio for over 15 years, highlights of Dana’s teaching career have included seven years on the voice and opera faculty at the BU Tanglewood Institute, two years on the full-time voice faculty at UMass Amherst and two years on the voice faculty at the New England Conservatory Prep school.

She is currently on the voice faculty at the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge MA.

Dana regularly performs a wide variety of repertoire on opera and concert stages. Recently she made her Carnegie Hall debut as the soprano soloist in Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with Mid-America Productions. Dana’s 2019 appearance as Pallas Athene in Gluck’s rarely heard Paride ed Elena with Odyssey Opera garnered critical acclaim.

Other recent notable engagements include Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with The Cantata Singers, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Wellesley Symphony and Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor with Coro Allegro. Favorite operatic roles performed include Musetta in La bohème, Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte, Anna Maurrant in Street Scene, Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, Micaëla in Carmen, Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow, and the title role in Alcina.

Dana won the Second Place American Prize for Art Song and Oratorio in 2019 and was the First Place Winner of the professional division of the national Classical Singer Competition in 2016. She holds the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree in Vocal Performance from Boston University, the MM in Vocal Performance from the New England Conservatory, and a BM in Vocal Performance from UMass Amherst.

David Small, Master Teacher

Classical Voice

“Splendid singer, a masterful communicator... excellent command of his instrument.Is able to pinpoint and solve technical problems... offers appropriate useful musical and performance suggestions. Improvement results.”Richard Miller, ProfessorEmeritus Oberlin Conservatory of Music


“Top choice for singers who want to sing at their optimal level...also currently a fantastic singer.”Wayne Tigges, bass-baritoneMet, Chicago Lyric, San Francisco, Opera del Liceu, Paris Opera, LA, San Diego, Glyndebourne, Santa Fe

Baritone David Small currently serves as Artist Teacher of Voice and facilitator for The Mindful Performer class at The Longy School of Music, having retired from The University of Texas at Austins’s Butler School of Music (2020) after 20 years. During his tenure at UT he was selected as a NATS Master Teacher (2011) and was an invited NATS National Conference presenter on the topic “From Stage to Studio; The Life and Times of an Artist Teacher of Voice” (2008). His students have been finalists in the Metropolitan Opera National auditions, the International Verdi Baritone Competition, and have been hired as soloists and apprentice artists with many of the country’s leading regional theaters. He had the honor of serving as a reader/editor for Richard Miller’s last book, “Securing Baritone, Bass-Baritone, and Bass Voices” and has taught multiple masterclasses throughout the United States and in Italy, Mexico, and China.

David’s approach to teaching is grounded in the physiology of the singing voice but also closely tied to his long association with Mindfulness and meditation. As one of his mentors said, “Performance=Potential-Interference”; so one of his main goals in voice lessons is to minimize the interference (of both technique and one’s mind) so the student can enjoy expressing themselves more vividly through their music. His teaching style is demanding but always supportive, encouraging, and positive.

Additionally, Mr. Small continues a vibrant operatic and concert career, having performed over 70 different opera roles in nearly 60 operas, including Rigoletto, Tosca (Scarpia), Traviata (Germont), Boheme (Marcello), and Il barbiere di Siviglia(Figaro), which he performed over 100 times. He has appeared with the Cincinnati May Festival, Austin Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and Fort Wayne Philharmonic in works such as Elijah, Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Bloch’s Sacred Service, and Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater. He has collaborated with conductors James Conlon, Anton Coppola, Valery Ryvkin, Victor DeRenzi, Dr. Robert Larsen and others. An avid recitalist, he has performed recitals with Anton Nel, Jean Anderson, Joachim Reinhuber, Steve Wogaman, John Novacek, and Eugene Cline, and has sung Schubert’s complete Winterreise 13 times.

He earned a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from DePauw University’s School of Music while studying with Thomas Fitzpatrick (protégé of American baritone, Mack Harrell) and earned an Artist Diploma in Opera and an MM in Voice Performance from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, under the tutelage of the great Italian basso Italo Tajo.

Xia Chen, Administrator and Overseas Liaison


Xia Chen, mezzo-soprano, completed her Master’s degree in Vocal Performance at the Longy School of Music of Bard College and a Graduate Professional Diploma from The Hartt School. She recently debuted the role of Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors in the collaborative program between Opera Connecticut and The Hartt School.

Xia also recently performed Lenora in Captain Lovelock and Adela in the Finishing School. She actively performs in concerts in the New England area, and was one of the soloists of Sino US Vocal Artists Association Recital Series in 2018 and 2019. Xia is a student of Dana Lynne Varga.

With a Bachelor’s in Economics and a strong business background, Xia is also a managing specialist and an English- Chinese translator. She used to work as loan manager and interpreter in bank and music festivals. She is thrilled to join the Empowered Musician team.

Theodora Nestorova, Apprentice

Bulgarian-British-American soprano, researcher, and teacher Theodora Ivanova Nestorova loves creating interdisciplinary and cross-cultural musical connections. Theodora maintains a varied international career as both a vocalist and scholar. She was a 2018-2019 Fulbright Study/Research Grant Recipient to Vienna, Austria, where she studied MA Lied/Oratorio at Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien and conducted voice science research. Theodora graduated with a BM (Voice Performance/Musicology) from Oberlin Conservatory in 2018 and is currently pursuing her MM (Vocal Pedagogy) at New England Conservatory in Boston.

The 2018-2019 first-place winner of the American Prize in Vocal Performance (Art Song College/University Division), Theodora is an avid early and contemporary musician. She has recorded world premiere compositions at the Bulgarian National Radio in Sofia, with the Indictus Project, and performed at the Balabanov’s House Music Days International Festival, Wien Modern Festival, Bang on a Can, and Emmanuel Music’s The Bach Institute. As an emerging opera singer, recent operatic credits include Clorinda (La Cenerentola), Noémie (Cendrillon), and Gretel (Hänsel und Gretel) [Schlosstheater Schönbrunn], as well as Oberto (Alcina) [Oberlin Opera Theater], and Amore (L’incoronazione di Poppea) [Oberlin in Italy]. Theodora was also a featured soloist in Mozart's Requiem (St. Paul's Episcopal Church Brookline), Handel’s Messiah (Credo Music—Oberlin), and Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (Oberlin Mozart Players).

Awarded the Pan American Vocology Association’s Best Student Presentation for her original vibrato research at the 2020 Virtual Symposium, Theodora has presented at the National Opera Association conference and Voice Foundation’s New Investigator Research Forum while maintaining an active private voice and language teaching studio. 

 She is a formerly competitive figure skater and pentalinguaphile with a passion for traveling internationally. Theodora is delighted to join The Empowered Musician’s team under the guidance of her longtime mentor, Dr. Dana Lynne Varga. Visit: theodoranestorova.com

Jessica Trainor Tasucu, Voice

Classical Voice, Musical Theater

Jessica Trainor Tasucu is a passionate voice teacher and life coach. She tailors each lesson to the individual student’s needs, wants and skill level. She loves to work on all styles and genres. Jessica has been teaching voice for almost ten years, and is devoted to providing a solid technique for a life of healthy singing. And she believes that lessons should be FUN!

Jessica is a mezzo-soprano, and maintains a full performance schedule in New England. Her 2019-20 season included a company and role debut with Boston Opera Collaborative as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, company and role debut with Opera del West as Prince Charmant in Cendrillon and Alto Soloist for Handel’s Messiah at the Immaculate Conception Church in Easton, MA. She was a professional ensemble member with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra for Verdi’s Aida, Dan Shore's Freedom Ride with Chicago Opera Theater in conjunction with MassOpera, and in several operas with Odyssey Opera.

She has performed roles with Opera NEO in San Diego, Promenade Opera Project (an immersive opera experience), MetroWest Opera and VOX New England. Future engagements include works by Gena Branscombe through The Gena Branscombe Project, a role debut as Dorabella in Così fan tutte with Due Donne Productions, and roles in Graceland and Cubs Win! (both world premieres) with Boston Opera Collaborative in their Opera Bites series. All dates are TBD due to Covid-19.

Jessica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Boston College and a Master of Music degree in vocal performance from the Longy School of Music. She has been a young artist at Opera NEO and the Vermont Music and Arts Center, and did additional training at the OperaWorks Winter Intensive.

Chelsea Basler, Dramatic Coach

Character Development, Presentation, Role Preparation

Grammy award nominated soprano Chelsea Basler continues to make her mark in an extensive array of operatic roles due to her unique combination of vocal appeal and artistry. Praised for her “luminous voice” with its “easy soaring range”. 

Chelsea has always had a passion for stagecraft which has made her a very sought-after performer. She has been praised for her “wonderful acting” on multiple occasions, garnering the attention of some of the top opera houses in the country. In dramatic coachings with Chelsea, singers will feel empowered to make stronger choices and take greater risks while performing. She also gives a systematic approach on how to tackle some of the more challenging characters in the repertoire. 

Chelsea specializes in modern American repertoire and has premiered some of the most popular operas of today. Learning modern repertoire can be challenging at times, but Chelsea will give you a step-by-step approach to learning and memorizing challenge repertoire while on a deadline. Chelsea specializes in modern American repertoire and has premiered some of the most popular operas of today. Learning modern repertoire can be challenging at times, but Chelsea will give you a step-by-step approach to learning and memorizing challenge repertoire while on a deadline. 

Last year Chelsea returned to Boston Lyric Opera for the East Coast premiere production of Poul Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale as Moira, and made her company debut with Boston Midsummer Opera as Clorinda in La cenerentola. In the fall of 2019, she joined the roster of The Metropolitan Opera covering the role of Pousette in Manon, then rejoined BLO to sing Mary Johnson in Fellow Travelers. 

Up until the COVID-19 crisis shuttered art institutions, Chelsea was slotted to make her Jordan Hall debut with Odyssey Opera, cover Musetta in La boheme with The Metropolitan Opera, return to Tanglewood to sing Angela in The Firebrand of Florence, and make her debut with Arizona Opera singing Julia Lowell in the world premiere of The Copper Queen.

Chelsea has also performed with Santa Fe Opera, Virginia Opera, Opera Festival di Lucca, San Diego Opera, Sarasota Opera, Nashville Opera, Pasadena Opera, Opera Saratoga, Opera Louisiana, Des Moines Metro Opera, Ohio Light Opera and Tanglewood Festival.

Katie Jillson, Voice and Piano

Classical Voice, Musical Theater, other Contemporary Styles

Katie Jillson is a seasoned voice and piano teacher, with experience in multiple genres and with all age levels. She teaches singers to use the most organic, tension free technique possible in order to discover their authentic voice, musicality and self expression. Her students have excelled in auditions, solo performances, intensive vocal study programs and competitions.

A versatile singer herself, she has been delighting audiences for two decades. She has performed as soloist in Handel’s Messiah, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen and Mozart’s Requiem. She has sung with Masterworks Chorale, the Paul Madore Chorale, Boston Cecilia, Zensemble and The Down East singers. Katie is a frequent soloist at St. Ignatius of Loyola church in Chestnut Hill, where she has been a member of the music ministry since 1999.

Katie’s musical studies began with the piano at the age of 5, and she discovered her passion for singing in her early adolescent years. Katie holds a BM in vocal performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, and will complete her MM in vocal performance at the Longy School of Music in 2022. Always developing professionally, she attended the Boston Conservatory Vocal Pedagogy Professional Workshop in 2019 and the OperaWorks Winter Intensive Program in 2016. Katie is thrilled to join the Empowered Musician Studio, and can’t wait to work with you!

Anna Carr, Piano

Piano for all ages and levels

Dr. Anna Carr is currently working as a vocal coach, accompanist, soprano, and teacher in the Boston area.  Currently a staff accompanist at Boston University, she has also accompanied the Handel and Haydn Society’s Young Men’s Chorus, and been a vocal soloist at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston.

Anna’s DMA in Vocal Performance is from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign; she also holds an MM in Collaborative Piano from Boston University, and a BA in Music from Principia College.  In Champaign, Anna was a professional piano accompanist and coach, and sang several soprano roles in the University of Illinois opera program, including debuting an opera completed in 2012.  She has been a member of the St Louis Symphony Chorus as well as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus with the BSO, and was a Bella Voce Award recipient through the Bel Canto Foundation.  

Anna has maintained a thriving teaching studio for over 2 decades, and believes there is great power in the process of learning an instrument.  She strives to help each of her students discover their own unique artistry, discipline, and self-awareness through practice, patience, and the simple joy of music-making.

Sarah Bowe, Musicianship Teacher

Music Theory, Solfege/Aural Skills, Conducting

Sarah holds a Master of Music in Choral Conducting and Bachelor of Music in Music Education and Music Theory summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate in Choral Conducting with a minor in Music Theory at Louisiana State University.

Sarah Bowe is a conductor, soprano, and educator currently based in the Boston area, and she is delighted to be a part of the Empowered Musician Studio. She has taught, mentored, and coached musicians of all ages and skill levels, and is committed to meeting musicians where they are and empowering them to advance their skills, nurture their musical imaginations, and achieve their personal goals.

Sarah maintains an active and varied schedule as a guest conductor, adjudicator, and clinician. She has worked with choirs and educators in the Northeast and South, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Texas. She recently served as Director of Choral Activities at Central Connecticut State University, and as interim choral faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Alongside conducting and choral music, aural skills acquisition and music theory have been constant companions to Sarah’s teaching and scholarship.

As a vocalist, Sarah is a versatile ensemble artist and enjoys a diverse range of repertoire. She sings regularly with Red Shift (Baton Rouge, LA), and Festina (Boston, MA), and in numerous sacred institutions in the Boston area. She is also a proud artist of Voce (Hartford, CT), and Vellichor (Worcester, MA). In addition to professional ensembles, Sarah sings with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (Boston Symphony Orchestra), and the Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble (Amherst, MA). Sarah is also a recent alumna of the Seraphic Fire Professional Choral Institute at Aspen Music Festival and School.

Abigail Riccards, Voice

Jazz and Pop

Chicago musician Abigail Riccards has made an international name for herself in the jazz and pop music community for nearly 20 years. After launching her career in New York City in 2002 at storied clubs like Birdland, the Jazz Standard, Smalls, and the Kitano, she continued to garner praise as a selected semifinalist in the 2004 Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition. After nearly a decade on the east coast, Riccards broadened her scope to the iconic Chicago jazz scene, where she frequently headlines legendary clubs such as the Green Mill, the Jazz Showcase, and Winter’s Jazz Club. After releasing her 3rd studio album in 2013, she performed on the main stage at the Chicago Jazz Festival with Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt tour. She has also collaborated with artists such as Jane Monheit, Peter Bernstein, Joel Frahm, and Mulgrew Miller.

Her live engagements have been met with generous praise from top critics. The Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich referred to her as “a breath of fresh air...possessing a textured but radiant quality” and Christopher Loudon from JazzTimes said “Abigail Riccards has mastered the increasingly dangerous art of making less more. Think Doris Day with Anita O'Day jazz smarts."

In addition to playing nearly every night at Chicago venues, Abigail enjoys teaching lessons and presenting workshops and masterclasses at colleges all over the country. 

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