National Opera Association Member Newsletter
David Holley, editor
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NOA Notes Newsletter

Vol. 44, No. 1
February 2021

In This Issue

From the President
From the President-Elect
From the Vice-President for Conferences
From the Vice-President for Regions
From the Finance Committee
2021 Conference in Review
Young People's Opera Review

From the President

Benjamin Brecher

Professor of Music
The University of California Santa Barbara

Dear NOA Colleagues,

I hope this finds you all well and immersed in exciting, new, and meaningful musical endeavors. It's only been a month since our virtual Conference, and I can't believe it! Only a few weeks ago we gathered in a very different way than we usually do to celebrate, learn, laugh, and be moved by the brilliance of our colleagues from across North America. I am glad I was able to see many of you personally in a chat or 'party' room, and I look forward to seeing those I missed soon, and all of you in person soon!

What a few days it was. I was so proud of our NOA leadership team that put together this massive virtual undertaking.  A special thanks to our Executive Director, Kirk Severtson, and our VP of Conferences Jess Munoz, who worked tirelessly for months and almost 24 hours a day during the conference. Also a special thanks to our Executive Board who also organized and worked behind the scenes, President-Elect, Lisa Moore, VP for Regions, Dawn Neely, Secretary Carol Notestine, Treasurer, Rebecca Renfro, and our immediate past President, Paul Houghtaling.

2021 is upon us!!!!  I know we all are hopeful for many changes and steps forward for our country, health, and of course our artform we love so dearly.

NOA will lead the way in 2021 with our committees, competitions, regional events, research opportunities, and our new Argento Fellowships. All culminating in our St. Augustine Conference in January 2022.

Behind the scenes we have already begun working on regional events, competitions, and are looking forward to NOA's strong future. I encourage you all to get involved in your regional chapters, feel free to email your Governor and see how you might be able to get involved. Please also feel free to reach out to any of our leadership team to discuss anything you might be interested in. 

I wish you all health, happiness, and artistic events that stir your soul in 2021. 


From the President-Elect

Lisa (Dawson) Moore

Professor of Voice
Indiana Wesleyan University

“Difficult Roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”
This is a quote from a plaque one of my students gave me a couple years ago. When I moved into a new home this past summer, I placed it at the doorway of my bedroom. It is a reminder to me each day—to be thankful for the beauty I have in my life that could only have come through the difficulty I have faced. It also reminds me that, no matter what the day holds, there is hope for the future. It is strangely and somberly encouraging.

The National Opera Association is also a huge encouragement to me. Gathering with many of you through our virtual conference in the early days of 2021 brought a renewed sense of vision, purpose, and resolve to me. Although holding a conference in this format had some unique difficulties, we had a beautiful conference.  Although we had difficulties as we worked on productions and advancing the operatic art form in 2020, so many of you shared beautiful and innovative productions!  We are continuing to move forward in spite of personal and collective challenges—how lovely!
This is my personal note of thanks to each of you—for doing what you do. I cannot wait to gather with you in person –shaking hands and giving long-overdue hugs. Until then, stay the course, my friends. Beautiful destinations are just ahead!


From the Vice-President for Conferences

Isai Jess Muñoz

Associate Professor of Voice and Opera
University of Delaware

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank all of you who took time to join us for the 2021 NOA Virtual Conference. It was wonderful to reconnect with old friends and to also welcome our many first-time conference attendees! We know that 2020 was a tough year for so many of us, and that is why it’s even more special that you chose to ring in the New Year with the National Opera Association. I want to especially thank Benjamin Brecher, Kirk Severtson, and all members of our board who put in many hours to ensure the seemless transition of our conference to virtual platform. I also wish to acknowledge that our conference is nothing without the scholarly contributions of our annual presenters. It’s hard to put into words how proud we are of all who chose to present this year. Filming takes precious time, that for many of us, is a serious commodity these days. Most impressive was the quality of their presentations, making the content for this conference rich and dynamic. We wish to remind you that all our conference sessions will be left online from now through June, making it possible for you to revisit the Whova platform and review sessions as needed.

Looking ahead, the NOA Board of Directors is already making plans for our next national conference, January 5-8, 2022 in St. Augustine, FL.  We encourage you to visit the NOA website periodically for updates on all future NOA events.

Throughout the year, should you have any questions, please reach out to me or to any member of our leadership. We’re always eager to hear from you!

Isaí Jess Muñoz

From the Vice-President for Regions

Dawn Neely

Assistant Professor of Voice and Director of Opera Workshop
West Georgia University

Hello all,

I was very pleased to see so many colleagues at the Regional Meeting via Zoom at the National Opera Association Virtual Conference.

I had a chance to "stop by" each Regional Breakout room and hear our members discuss what tactics they were using in their Opera classes and productions. I also heard many of our Regions discussing future workshops and Regional conferences when it is safe to meet face to face.

It gave me such joy to hear all the collegial conversations and forward looking plans. I look forward to working with our Regional Governors over the next year as we look ahead to a great future for our regional events. Please let me know what you have planned in your region. NOA wants to help get the word out to our membership and potential members!


From the Finance Committee

Rebecca Renfro, treasurer

Director of Opera Workshop
Associate Professor of Voice
Sam Houston State University School of Music

Dear Cherished Colleagues,

I couldn’t be prouder and more appreciative of those who worked so diligently on the NOA 2021 Virtual Conference.  Congratulations to Ben Brecher, Kirk Severtson, Isai Jess Muñoz, Lisa Moore, and all those involved in putting together a dynamic and inspiring conference. It was wonderful to see so many members in attendance, and to learn about the wonderful work that everyone is doing in these crazy times.

As I reported to the membership in early January, the financial position of the National Opera Association remains strong.  Our Executive Director, Kirk Severtson, has worked diligently to update our accounting and reporting systems, so that we have a clear picture of how monies are spent to keep the organization running. Revenues are up this year, primarily due to a more streamlined approach to membership dues collections, coupled with the lower cost of the annual conference.  In addition, we have changed the reporting date for our fiscal year, so that it matches revenues to expenses more accurately.  This change will enable us to budget and plan more effectively across all organizational projects.  Our endowment investments showed a healthy growth margin, up by approximately $13,000 for the year.

Going forward, I will be working with Kirk, Paul Houghtaling and the NOA Board of Trustees in examining our investments and finding ways to streamline our approach to managing the endowment investments. This is the next step in the process of making the organization more efficient and will poise us for further growth in the future.  The generous donation from the Dominick Argento estate is an exciting new chapter in NOA’s history, and I am grateful to former Executive Director Robert Hansen for ushering in this new opportunity for our beloved NOA.

As a non-profit organization, NOA continues to be self-sufficient; we do not rely on any major donors for our day-to-day operations, and we carry no debt. As always, I would love to see our membership continue to grow, as this will help bolster the organization financially as well as professionally for years to come.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve NOA – I look forward to a healthy and positive 2021 for all of us!


Rebecca Renfro

2021 Conference in Review

Results of the 2021
Carolyn Bailey and Dominick Argento
Vocal Competition

Eighteen finalists competed in the two divisions of the 2021 Carolyn Bailey and Dominick Argento Vocal Competition, held virtually on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. Viewers watching live voted on special $500 Audience Favorite awards in each division.

Click here to see all the winners!
Watch on YouTube:

Dorothy Danner named Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Noted for her inventive staging, Dorothy Danner has directed over 200 productions of operas, operettas, musicals and plays throughout the United States, Canada and Belgium; including operas for the companies of Glimmerglass, Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, Cleveland, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Portland, Kansas City, Virginia and for San Francisco Merola.

Her production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM in New York for the Juilliard, garnered wide critical acclaim, as did her PBS-TV, TRIBUTE TO GILBERT AND SULLIVAN for the Boston Pops and her television staging of Richard Wargo's opera, BALLYMORE - the first and only musical setting of a Brian Friel play.

Ms. Danner has had the honor of staging the premieres of contemporary composers Barab, Botti, Garwood. Hamlisch, Harnick, Lloyd, Mechem. Musgrave, Sirotta and Wargo. And she has served on the awards panel for the National Institute of Music Theatre and on Opera America's Panel for New Works.


Paul Tazewell: Lift Every Voice Award Winner

Paul Tazewell has been designing costumes for Broadway and regional theater, film and television, dance, and opera productions for over twenty-five years. Starting his Broadway career with the groundbreaking musical, ‘Bring in Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk directed by George C. Wolfe.

Paul would go on to design costumes for such shows as the original Broadway productions of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning Hamilton, In the Heights, The Color Purple, Dr. Zhivago, Memphis, Caroline, or Change, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, Russel Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam, Lombardi, and Magic/Bird. Revival work includes Side Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Jesus Christ Superstar, Guys and Dolls, A Raisin in the Sun, and On the Town.

In the United States and across the world, Paul has designed for such renown companies as The Metropolitan Opera, The Bolshoi Ballet, The English National Opera, Theatre du Chatelet, The Public Theater, The National Theater, The Kennedy Center, The Guthrie Theater, Arena Stage, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and many more.


Alice Parker recognized with Sacred in Opera Achievement Award

Alice Parker says that she sang before she spoke.

What an appropriate beginning for a career that has spanned over seven decades and has been devoted to the creation of works for the human voice. She began composing at the age of five, and wrote her first orchestral score while still in high school. At Smith College and the Julliard School, she studied composition and conducting, beginning her long association with Robert Shaw. Their many settings of American folk songs, hymns, and spirituals form an enduring repertoire for choruses all around the world. Through the years she has continued composing in all the choral forms, and has been commissioned by such well-known groups as Chanticleer, the Vancouver Chamber Singers, and the Atlanta Symphony, as well as hundreds of community, school, and church choruses. She has been recognized by Chorus America, the American Guild of Organists, the American Choral Directors Association, The Hymn Society and Choral Arts New England for her lifetime contributions to choral music. She is the recipient of six honorary doctorates, the Smith College Medal, and now, Alice Parker has been selected as the National Opera Association’s 2021 Sacred in Opera Achievement Award honoree.


Conference Session Reviews

**We will publish several session reviews in each of the upcoming NOTE issues **

"Czech it Out" Czech Opera in the Collegiate Setting
Review submitted by Michael Ching

Prof. Kylie Gougler presented "Czech it Out" Czech Opera in the Collegiate Setting. Prof. Gougler presented us with examples from Czech opera that went well beyond Janacek, Dvorak and Smetana. She examined some lesser known works by Vilém Blodek  and Josef Bohuslav Foerster. She pointed out some of the folk origins and casting archetypes of the genre. Prof. Gougler will make a welcome addition to the scholar-performer-producers who can help introduce us to this somewhat neglected corner of the repertoire. My favorite observation in her talk was that Czech opera was quite Italianate in style, something that had never occurred to me.

What She Said: Creating New Operatic Works that Pass the Bechdel Test and Give Female Characters a Relevant Voice
Review submitted by Rebecca Renfro
Jennifer Cresswell and Kathleen Kelly opened their presentation by explaining the Bechdel test (an evaluation method to measure a woman’s dramatic relevance in a movie, theatrical play or other dramatic work), and applying the test to the forty most performed operas in the canon. With the use of the Bechdel test, Cresswell and Kelly provided a vast amount of data that supports the argument that most operas portray women in only one of three perspectives: romantic ingénue, betrayed lover or sultry seductress – all female identities that were dependent on male desire and control.  Cresswell and Kelly then discussed their new project as librettists for the opera Interstate – a narrative that centers around the lives of Aileen Wuornos and Dawn Botkins.  This new opera explores the complicated relationship between these two women, and underscores the need to distinguish women as complex characters separate from their relationships with men.

The Creative Brain: How to Foster Creative Expression in Times of Stress
Review submitted by Caroline Schiller

Tuesday’s Plenary with Indre Viskontas gave attendees an incredibly informative and practical overview of the effects of stress on the brain and a discussion of ways to foster creative expression. In these unprecedented times, the clear and concise presentation of information relevant to our work and lives was particularly appreciated as were the practical suggestions to encourage creative risk taking in our students. A wonderful session, with information that has impacted my understanding of the brain in times of stress and will continue to impact my work with students for years to come.

Censorship, Awareness, and Evolution:  Programming and Practices for Sensitive Material
Review submitted by Louise Loftquist

This plenary session proved to be a thought-provoking discussion on navigating issues of diversity and inclusion in opera.  Panelists for this session were opera director, writer, and producer Audrey Chait, soon to be joining the Merola Opera Program; Eiki Isomura, principal conductor of Opera in the Heights; Temple University Opera’s Brandon McShaffrey, who is also producing director of Mauckingbird Theatre, Philadelphia’s premier Queer theatre company; and Wayne Sanders, co-founder of Opera Ebony and opera director at Sarah Lawrence College.   NOA members Amy Johnson and Sam Mungo led the conversation.  Panelists agreed that the old-fashioned institution of opera had undergone a paradigm shift towards diversity and inclusion and spoke about the challenges to supporting and maintaining that shift.  Some of the challenges discussed included educating audiences on sensitive topics, creating welcoming spaces during production so that all artists felt as safe as possible, exploring new works, and re-examining older operas through the lens of contemporary sensibility.  McShaffrey put forward an inspiring concept of the “citizen artist,” that one must be first a responsible, aware citizen of the world to create meaningful art.  Although several panelists admitted that they feared censorship, Sanders pushed for always expressing “the truth of what’s going on,” because without it, opera was “just vocalizing.”  Perhaps Isomreura encapsulated the tenor of the session best when he said simply, “Opera is for everyone.”

National Opera Association
Young People's Opera Committee Review

Elijah’s Violin:
A Family Opera in One Act
Music by Meira Warshauer
Libretto by Susan Levi Wallach & Meria Warshauer
Dramaturg, Beth Greenberg

Princess Shulamit (Shula) – mezzo soprano
Prince Raphael (Rafi) – tenor
Mushroom Man/Elijah – bass/baritone
Auntie Malka – mezzo soprano (may double Princess Shulamit)
Zohara – soprano
Demons and other various characters – sopranos/altos, children chorus members
Flute, violin, cello, piano.
Fairy tales and folk tales are wonderful for outreach operas. The stories are generally morality tales full of fantasy, adventure, honor, and reconciliation. Audiences of all ages deeply understand life’s obstacles and scary times, but with courage and a pure heart, heroic actions often lead to the freeing of great hidden powers. This is what we find out from the story of Elijah’s Violin.

CLICK HERE for complete review

Director's Perspective

Director’s Perspective, a feature online and in NOA Notes, was launched this Fall. The membership of the National Opera Association includes some of the most talented, experienced and creative minds in the field of opera directing, in and beyond academia. In these fast-evolving and challenging times, we welcome articles addressing the following: the creation of successful opera workshops and opera productions; implementation of greater inclusivity, diversity, equity and access (IDEA) for our students and colleagues; and historical perspectives on opera production from the director’s viewpoint.


Any submissions may be sent to Director's Perspective Editor, Kathleen Roland-Silverstein, at  Submissions are  accepted on a rolling basis and must be no longer than 1500 words in length, 12 point font, Times New Roman.  Those accepted for publication in online and in NOA Notes will be notified by the Editor of Director's Perspective.

NOA's Vision Statement:


NOA Members are the Foundation Builders
for the Future of Opera.
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