We couldn’t be prouder of our summer interns. And not just because they’re stellar students with a passion for vocal performance.

Both Saad Jalisi and Sofia Rohlman have readily adapted to business in the age of COVID. They had been expecting to gain work experience in an actual office. Instead, they’ve sheltered in place and become masterful at ZOOM. Both say they’re learning a lot, in spite of a summer that’s different from what anyone envisioned.

Jalisi, whose first name is pronounced “sod” (“like grass,” he said), will begin his sophomore year at UNC Charlotte in the fall. He’s a Levine Scholar who’s majoring in religious studies and double minoring in American studies and women’s and gender studies.

His parents are Pakistani, and although he was born in Baltimore, the family moved to Pakistan when he was 5. He loved the music culture of his parents’ country of origin and has been singing and performing ever since he was young. When the family returned to Baltimore, the young Jalisi joined his elementary school choir. Later, he was part of a high school a cappella group that toured throughout Europe.

He’s also a member of UNC Charlotte’s Codachrome A Cappella and serves as fundraising chair for the group.

He doesn’t see his COVID summer as a bummer. Instead, he feels fortunate to get to see how a nonprofit operates during a crisis. “It’s been miraculous, really, to see how the staff has pivoted,” he said. “They’re always making sure their constituencies are being served, in spite of the challenges. It’s a priceless experience.”

And even though he’s had limited “in-real-life” interaction with the staff, he’s gotten to know them over ZOOM. “They’re all lovely and likable,” he said. “They’ve made me feel very comfortable. It’s an absolutely wonderful experience.”

He’s working mostly with Opera Carolina’s Director of Education & Community Programs, Ashley Johnson Lam, on summer workshops for middle- and high-school students. The workshops have had to become all digital. “That sounded impossible at first,” he said. “But it has worked so well. There are even options that allow for accompaniment for the singer.”

“I’ve gotten to sit in on some of the auditions, which have also had to be all virtual,” he said. “The kids really put their heart into their singing. Even watching from a remote location, you can see how much passion they’re conveying.”

Sofia Rohlman graduated from Providence High School and will attend Appalachian State University this fall as a vocal major and a vocal performance and music industry studies double minor.

Rohlman used to listen to pop music exclusively. That is, until her mother and grandfather introduced her to Andrea Bocelli. “I fell in love with his technique,” she said. “I love the emotion. It’s so passion-driven.”

She attended a rehearsal of Opera Carolina’s Carmen last January and said she teared up during one of Don Jose’s solos. “I felt so elevated when I was listening.”

Originally, Rohlman was to have worked in customer relations – managing ticket requests, answering phones. But COVID-19 changed that. Instead, she’s immersed in creating a digital archive of old opera photos, a project Opera Carolina’s marketing department is doing with Google Arts & Culture, an online platform that allows the public to view high-res images and videos of artworks and cultural artifacts from partner cultural organizations throughout the world.

She’s going all the way back to 2002 and putting professional production photos of every single opera in an online archive. It’s a big job, and it can be done easily from home.

Rohlman said she’s learning a lot, even though she’s not in the office. “I always thought producing shows would be a lot simpler than it is,” she said. “I thought you hired and paid the actors, and that was that. There is so much more involved.”

The private voice lessons Rohlman usually takes are on hiatus, but she’s been writing songs during the lockdown. In fact, she’s been changing the lyrics of popular songs to make them quarantunes. Her favorite is a parody of “Hey There, Delilah” by the Plain White T’s.

Hey there, Delilah. What’s it like in isolation?

I’m a thousand hours in, and this can’t feel like a vacation anymore.

School don’t feel the same, not anymore

Of this I’m sure.

Hey there, Delilah. Don’t you worry about the distance.

Six feet apart isn’t that much; we’ll get by with our strong persistence.

Close your eyes. We can learn to shut out bad news.

Tell me it ain’t true.

Oh, corona days and me

Oh, corona days and me …

The coronavirus has upended everything. But Opera Carolina’s summer interns aren’t letting it stand in the way of having a rewarding experience. And the staff and patrons are benefiting tremendously from the energy and enthusiasm these two talented students bring to the company.

Learn more about Opera Carolina’s 2020/21 season – The Season of Action – at operacarolina.org.