Sacramento State’s opera students are ready for a new year and new direction as the program joins hands with Sacramento Opera. From left are staff accompaniest Roy Sanchez and students Ellen Presley, Nicole Cleveland, Anna Ginnett, Rachel Burgin, Will Tvrdik, and Brandon Anderson.
Sacramento State’s music instructors want to take the department’s opera offerings in a different direction, so they’ve turned to the pros to forge a new program.
When voice coach and opera director Lynn Stradley retired at the end of last summer after 30 years, associate professor of voice Robin Fisher reached out to her friends at Sacramento Opera to help create something new. Now in it’s 27th season, Sacramento Opera has a well-established reputation in the community and will stage three main productions this year, along with two smaller offerings, including a children’s opera.
“We wanted to take a year or longer to re-assess what was going on with the opera program and look for the right direction for the department,” Music Department chair Ernie Hills says.
Fisher, who has appeared in several professional opera productions, first approached Sacramento Opera when she arrived at Sacramento State five years ago. Even then, the company began sending guest artists and other representatives to talk with students and offer lessons on careers and auditioning. That relationship was further formalized at the beginning of this school year. “The students are already very enthusiastic,” Fisher says. “I think they realize they have a very cutting-edge educational approach here.”
The students are working with Sacramento Opera’s artistic director Timm Rolek, who will conduct the student production at Sacramento State in March.
“This first year we’re taking some baby steps,” Rolek says. “It’s the beginning of a long collaboration.”
Yefim Maizel, a San Francisco resident and guest stage director from the Metropolitan Opera, is teaching an opera theater class this semester. His job is to help the students with their stage moves and acting techniques.
During the first day of class, Maizel had each of the 22 students sing a piece to get an idea of where they stand as singers and performers. Those tryouts will be used to cast a series of operatic scenes to be performed at 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 10, and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 16, at the recital hall in Capistrano Hall.
Students like the new approach. “So far, it’s very promising,” sophomore Ellen Presley says. Rolek is an amazing conductor, she says, and Maizel is already challenging them to do their best.
Meanwhile, Sacramento Opera gets a chance to discover new talent. Several students already have taken roles with the company, Rolek says, including the three principles in its children’s production, an outreach program that brings opera to children at their own schools.
The new alliance can only further that kind of opportunity. “It’s a great introduction into the professional opera world for our students,” Hills says. “And if they make a good impression, they may get a job out of it.”
Audiences will get their first chance to see and hear the results of the partnership when Sacramento Opera’s children’s production, “Little Red Riding Hood,” is performed free in the recital hall at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2.
For more information, call the Music Department at (916) 278-5155. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.