By: Marie Raymond
Every spring semester, the Conservatory puts on the Main Stage Opera. This gives the chance for Vocal Performance for both undergraduate and graduate students, Orchestra students, Lighting students, Scenic Design students, Costume Design, students, Stage Management students, Technical Production students, and Sound Design and Reinforcement students, to learn how to put on the Main Stage Opera.
During the summer day of July 16, 2019, everyone was emailed the performance schedule and the announcements of what this year’s performances, shows, opera, this year’s guest artists, etc. will be. When the announcement came out, and there is no mention of the Main Stage Opera, current and past Conservatory students were either, upset or relieved. Many of the students who are upset are Vocal Performance students.
Vocal Performance students undergraduate and graduate rely on the Opera to put on their future careers.
On July 17, 2019, the Dean of the Conservatory, Dean Michael Stepniak, sent an email regarding the students, parents, and faculty concerns. In the email, Dean Stepniak wrote, “Some of you may have noticed the absence of our Main Stage Opera. I would like to take the opportunity to, first, affirm that this is a temporary measure.”
Dean Stepniak, continues to write, “While I realize the temporary absence of the Main Stage Opera may be disappointing to some of our vocal students, it is my expectation that we will emerge with a new vision for ensuring artistic and academic excellence, as well as forward-thinking industry training that will help students navigate a fulfilling career well into the 21st century.”
The Dean of the Conservatory stated this in the email to the Vocal Performance why Opera is changing.
“It is being shaped by smaller chamber operas and innovative and immersive art experiences in inventive, intimate and non-traditional spaces. Even the largest opera houses are stepping out of their halls and exploring both real and virtual ways to reach audiences because the large traditional programs and settings are no longer financially viable.”
Dean Stepniak is claiming that the music industry is changing. Yes, it is; however, Operas are the desire and a passion for vocalists to perform their craft of centuries of beautiful works. Opera is still happening in Europe, where many vocalists will go too, to perform their craft.
Many students spoke in fury when asked how they feel. One anonymous Vocal Performance student stated, “I came here with a positive attitude and I was not going to be picky or upset and I just wanted to get used to college. As a sophomore, I do not think it is okay anymore …”
They also stated, “I am looking at other schools right now where I will get this opportunity. This school is expensive and I do not want to pay unless I am not getting an education…”
Another Vocal Performance student, Geovanni Rodriguez B.M Vocal Performance ‘22, stated, “While I can appreciate that we won’t have to stress so much over a large production taking up a good amount of our time, I also feel like we’ll be missing out on valuable experience that can help us in the real world when we finally graduate and pursue careers in performance.”
Other students who are not Vocal Performance students were asked how does it feel not having a Main Stage Opera. Austin Fairly B.M Bass Trombone Performance ’20 said, “As a non-performer [opera singer/vocal performance major] I see it as a good thing and a bad thing. Good thing, to work on my craft, but, a bad thing, people who prefer it cannot participate in it.”
Another student, Jacob Aguglia B.F.A Acting ’22 shared, “It gives vocal performance majors and others [students] the tilt the professional experience that is needed when going out into the real world.”
In Music History classes, Opera is the main topic, and the main presentation when it comes to talking about composers. Without Opera, there would be nothing to talk about. We learn from Operas and how Operas made an impact on today’s music. Without the Main Stage Opera are we all (student body) losing importance in our education or is the changing of the performing industry more important? The Main Stage Opera, is vital to many conservatory majors curriculum, such as Music Education, Music Therapy, Music Production, and Recording Technology, Music Composition, Music Performance, etc. It is required for all music students to learn, experienced professionals, and talk about Opera and this is why Opera is so important.
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The Dean should have communicated the change publicly instead of releasing a statement after the fact. One loses credibility when he/she is not transparent.
For many years I have attended “The Met” in NYC. It was a wonderful experience to hear the wonderful arias from the old and from the new. Seeing the various productions, costumes and hearing the fabulous voices will never be forgotten. I think it is a shame that the students of your Conservatory will not have the experience of producing, singing. dressing and designing the fabulous classic and new operas. I live in NC and am extremely lucky that UNCW is now broadcasting the operas through satellite..Your students will lose a great experience and opportunity