Pacific takes first place in national opera competition

two students dance on stage during an opera production

Filo Ebid and Riley Brearton perform in Pacific's spring 2022 production of "The Threepenny Opera."

University of the Pacific’s Conservatory of Music garnered first place in a national opera competition for its spring 2022 production of “The Threepenny Opera” by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

The annual Opera Production competition, held by the National Opera Association, is divided into divisions by production size and budget. Pacific was awarded first in Division III (a mid-range production) by a panel of judges who have worked at some of the country’s most esteemed opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, San Francisco Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Houston Grand Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, among others. 

For many of the students—including three of the leads—the award-winning performance was their first at Pacific.

“We didn’t have a production our freshman or sophomore years because of COVID,” said Brylan Finley ’23, a vocal performance major who played the role of Jenny Diver. “It was amazing to see how well everyone grew into their parts and improved so much over the process.”

students stand next to a microphone while singing during an opera production

Brylan Finley and Filo Ebid perform in "The Threepenny Opera" in the spring 2022 production.

“The Threepenny Opera” tells the story of criminals, beggars and prostitutes in Victorian England. Students began preparing for their roles in the fall of 2021. They performed the production over one weekend in March, and the recording was sent in for judging.

Finley partly attributes their success to Pacific’s use of the Michael Chekov technique (an intensive acting course) and creating character files. “That’s really helpful to get to know our characters on a deeper level,” she said.

Filo Ebid ’23, a vocal performance major who played the role of Macheath, said it was a rewarding experience. “We all bonded so well together as an ensemble that we really didn't want to let go of our characters,” he said.

Ebid, Finley and Riley Brearton ’23, a music management major, were able to revive their roles for another competition in 2023.

Pacific was selected to compete as finalists in the Robert Hansen Collegiate Opera Scenes Competition, which was held in-person at the National Opera Association’s annual conference in Houston Jan. 4-7.

“It was the first time doing something this big for us,” said Brearton, who played the role of Jackie “Tiger” Brown. “It was really exciting to represent our university and the opera theatre program.”

three students and two professors pose for a group photo

(L-R) Students Brylan Finley, Filo Ebid and Riley Brearton with Associate Professor of Voice Eric Dudley and Professor of Opera James Haffner at the 2023 National Opera Association conference in Houston. 

The experience of traveling to Houston provided students a unique opportunity to learn essential skills outside of class, including adjusting to new surroundings while maintaining their vocal health.  

“Staying well in a foreign city in a likely very dry hotel, that's something you can talk about in the classroom, but you really don't get it, you don't understand what is required of you until you’re in it,” said Professor of Opera James Haffner.

It also provided a rare opportunity for students to reflect on a previous role. 

“Usually, you're moving forward from one production to the next,” said Associate Professor of Voice Eric Dudley. “The opportunity to watch the production again, reapproach some of the same music in different ways and then receive feedback is very valuable.”  

Pacific’s opera program has a long history of producing standout singers and rising stars. Alumni have performed at major opera houses and concert halls in the United States and around the world, including the San Francisco Opera, the Royal Opera House, Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Metropolitan Opera.