The Washington Opera Young Artist Program of the Americas gave the public a rare glimpse of its backstage activities Thursday evening at the Inter-American Development Bank's auditorium. Most members of the capacity audience were hearing music they had never heard before, including some U.S. premieres.

The fascinating program was based on "The Unknown Puccini," a 1987 book by Washington musicologist Michael Kaye, who also introduced each song. Kaye's book discusses Puccini's work and includes 15 unfamiliar songs and arias culled from old magazines or manuscript sources.

The program also included material discovered since the publication of Kaye's book. And because tenor Matthew Wolfe was ill and could not perform, two Puccini favorites were inserted into the program, "Musetta's Waltz" from "La Boheme" and "O Mio Babbino Caro" from "Gianni Schicchi." Pianists Danielle DeSwert and Carlos Rodriguez provided accompaniment, and Rodriguez opened the program with the "Electric Shock" March, composed by Puccini for the centennial of Volta's invention of the battery.

The young singers all are clearly headed for operatic careers and most have already sung with the Washington Opera or other companies. They not only had excellent voices (which won their admission to the program) but also a stage presence, polish and sense of the music's structure and dynamics that must be credited to the program. The singers were, in alphabetical order, Eugenia Garza, Michele Gutrick, Hoo-Ryoung Hwang, Israel Lozano, Amanda Pabyan, Lee Poulis, Jessica Swink and Hung Yan. These are names that opera-lovers are happily likely to encounter again.

Joseph McLellan