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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Daniel Biaggi: Opera Can Change the World


Daniel Biaggi

Daniel Biaggi

Interview with Daniel Biaggi by John Favazzo Director of Alumni Engagement

Daniel Biaggi wasn’t interested in music or opera when he was in high school. “I was more interested in athletics after school and art and drawing. For a moment I was actually thinking architecture and even the fashion industry more than music.” said Biaggi. “It wasn’t until after I returned home that I discovered I had a talent for singing.”

Daniel’s family was originally from the Italian part of Switzerland, but he grew up in a French region speaking French and German. He was fortunate to have an internationally oriented family. “We lived in South Africa when I was very little, until about 4-years-old. We traveled a lot. My parents always told us that the world is round and should be explored.”

After arriving in the US, Daniel was surprised how different the US school system was from the academically focused system in Switzerland.  Daniel said, “just walking through the hallways saying hello to everyone and to be with different people in every subject was new for me. I particularly remember engaging conversations in civics class. We didn’t have the same focus on civics and governmental structures in Switzerland and it was really an eye opener to understand I couldn’t fault someone for thinking differently because we grew up with different structures.” He continued, “I’ve always enjoyed looking at certain problems or circumstances from many different angles and that was solidified on exchange.”

Making friends was also a challenge. “Making friends was not always easy for me. I was well-liked as a kid, but I wasn’t necessarily the class clown or most outgoing person. The first day of school in Switzerland was not a pleasant day for me, so being able to repeat that experience and force myself to be in front of new people and challenge myself to make new friends had a great impact on who I am today.”

Daniel uses these skills along with being proficient in five languages to navigate the opera world. “The idea of multinational, cultural exchange happens almost every day in opera.” Attracting top talent from around the globe, Daniel says, “opera continues the work of cultural exchange by putting people in front of an American audience who are not from here. We have Q&A sessions where the audience learns where the performers are from and how that may have influenced their performance.” He continues, “every action in opera is informed by the language in which the work was written. The language informs the conversation we have with the public about cultural differences, the intensity level of the expressions and which words we use when we are really angry in that language or really in love in that language.”

Daniel, still in touch with his host family and friends from exchange, encourages students who are considering exchange to “just do it!” He says, “even if I can’t put my finger on exactly how it shaped me, exchange was one of the most important, most instrumental things I’ve done in terms of opening my eyes to the whole world, putting myself in other people’s shoes and simply being able to connect the dots differently.”