University of the Pacific’s Opera Institute Trains Rising Stars
When asked to create a list of rock bands, many can name fifteen or more without much thought. When asked to name all the great opera stars many struggle to think of just one. Because of this many assume there are few opera careers available and little room for more than one or two stars at a time. The Pacific Opera Institute (POI) is out to change that perception. The intensive three week program gives students real opera experience, opens their world to the many careers in live music and gives them a leg up in the field.
"The opera institute is a program that attracts students from all over the world, of different skill levels who have a passion for opera," said Daniel Ebbers, the managing director of POI and professor at University of the Pacific's Conservatory of Music. "Opera, being such a specialized field, can be difficult to get into; this program gives students an advantage above others."
This past summer, from July 25 to August 15, 16 students walked onto Pacific's Stockton campus, unsure of what the Opera Camp would have to offer them, but determined to learn all that they could. These students made up three levels of artists, beginning students, graduate students and professional singers. What they did not realize in their first few hours together, was how much they would learn from each other.
POI began as an idea between Daniel Ebbers and fellow Conservatory professor Jim Haffner. The idea has since grown into a well established summer program in its fourth year. Each year only 16 out of about 150 applicants, from young high school students to those of the post collegiate level, are chosen to attend the program.
The Opera Institute works closely in collaboration with the Stockton Opera and the Bear Valley Music Festival. A mere week after arriving at Pacific, students gives an abridged performance of an opera in alliance with the Stockton Opera-an unheard of schedule in the world of opera. This performance is one of POI's largest fundraisers and has become the Stockton Opera's most successful fundraisers. When POI goes to Bear Valley they bring costumes to share and students eager to help with the larger production that Bear Valley puts on and to be on stage with the professionals.
During the course of the three weeks students take a variety of classes including diction, mastery, dance, theory and aria preparation, all of which are important to put on a successful performance.
"The program was very challenging and stressful," said Amanda Workman who attended the program in 2009 and is now working on her Master's Degree in New York. "The first day we sang through the entire opera that we would be performing for an audience a week later."
This past summer's three weeks were divided into two phases:
• During phase one, from July 24 to August 4, students attended intense classes and practice sessions. To end their lessons at Pacific, the students showcased what they had learned through a condensed performance of Lehar's "The Merry Widow."
• Phase two began August 4th with an early morning trek to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where the Bear Valley Music Festival is held. While there students continued to take courses in theory, audition techniques and dance.
At Bear Valley students helped the festival with their full production of Lehar's "The Merry Widow," while continuing with aria preparation. They also take more master classes and attend a roundtable where learn from those already working in the field of opera. "Working with the professionals both backstage and onstage is a rare opportunity for many of our students that they relish," said Haffner, the stage director for POI.
Although POI has only been running for four years it has already graduated many who have gone on to great places. After graduating from POI Marco Stefani and Jake Williams have both won full scholarships to graduate school at Indiana University. Emily Dyer and Jonathan McCollough were the two finalists in the LA Spotlight awards, having been chosen from among 3,000 applicants. McCollough ended up winning the award and has since received a full fellowship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Opera is a very specialized field that requires a lot of skill and determination to enter. POI is a unique program that gives students the skills they need to build a career in opera. The collaboration with the Bear Valley Music Festival and the Stockton Opera affords attendees rare chances to learn from and perform with those who have had to struggle to make their mark on opera.
"While at the Pacific Opera Institute I learned to be myself, even while in an unfamiliar stressful environment," said Workman. "Most of all, I learned to trust myself, my passion for opera and my talent."