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

Vol. 44, No. 2
April 2021

In This Issue

2022 National Conference: Date, Proposals
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 Reviews


Nominate Someone for the NOA Board
Deadline April 15

2022 St. Augustine Conference Session Proposals
Deadline May 24

2020-21 Opera Production Competition
Apply by June 30

Save the Date: 2022 National Conference

St. Augustine: “Exploration and Discovery”

NOA's 67th Annual National Conference will be held at the World Golf Village Renaissance St. Augustine Resort, January 5-8, 2022.

Whether dipping your toe or diving right in, NOA’s warm waters on Florida’s subtropical coast invite you to join us for four days of performances and presentations. Come to St. Augustine to explore, experience, and celebrate significant past and present practices, methods, and inquiries on music-drama.

Call for Session Proposals

Session proposals are now being accepted for the 2022 National Conference in St. Augustine (January 2022) on a wide variety of topics including opera education, practice, performance, production, history, outreach, and composition.

Please complete the Session Proposal Form by May 24, 2021 for your presentation to be considered. Presenters will be notified by mid-July whether their proposal has been accepted.

From the President

Benjamin Brecher

Professor of Music
The University of California Santa Barbara

Dear Colleagues,

I hope this finds you all well and enjoying the last semester/quarter of this very challenging school year.  I have been so proud of our membership when I see the social media announcements and pictures of the opera productions you all have put together in very difficult circumstances.  It only shows how great our membership is!

NOA leadership has been working on many items this winter, most importantly is the new Argento Fellowships.  We should be announcing those two in the coming months.  And, believe it or not we are already deep in the planning for St. Augustine 2022!!  

Last month I unveiled a new NOA project via zoom format, NOA Discussion Forums.  My session was focused on the unique challenges small opera programs have putting together both classes and productions.  The other session was led by our wonderful NOA Board member and colleague Michael Ching, entitled, "Diversity in Opera: Realities, Casting, and Repertoire."

I hope many of you were able to join these sessions, and if you have any ideas for future sessions, I encourage you to email me.  

Thanks to our leadership team for all their hard work, dedication, and selfless donation of their time. Lastly, this has been a very difficult month for me, and I want to thank the many of you who reached out to me.  It was greatly appreciated.

Best Wishes,


From the President-Elect

Lisa (Dawson) Moore

Professor of Voice
Indiana Wesleyan University



It’s that time again….when a little of my heart is carried off into the world by my students who spread their wings and fly away.  It’s been a hard time for them during the pandemic and current circumstances of our world.  But they are doing it.  They are a little scared, but brave.  They have a lot of unknowns, but are pressing forward.  Here’s to all of our students!  Here’s to the Future!

Thank you NOA Members for building a Foundation for not only Opera, but for the lives of the young people with whom you work.  May our world be a better place because of our time with them!  May we have continued energy and inspiration to connect with them - teaching, learning and making music together!
Be encouraged, friends! You are making a difference!


From the Vice-President for Conferences

Isai Jess Muñoz

Associate Professor of Voice and Opera
University of Delaware

Greetings Colleagues!

Spring is here, and soon your leaders at the National Opera Association will gather for our annual mid-year meeting to plan for our 67th national conference, taking place January 5-8, 2022 in St. Augustine, Florida.  What a great day it will be, when we’re finally able to gather once more in person, reminded that as a community of artists and educators, our collective resiliency, resourcefulness, and willingness to adapt to rapid change is vital to our respective worlds!

If you are interested in presenting a session in St. Augustine (and we hope you are), now is the time to begin organizing your materials.  Our submission deadline for session proposals is Monday May 24th.  You may find further information and submission guidelines on the NOA website.  There is no theme this year, just a wonderfully inspiring title, “Exploration and Discovery,” which reflects the history of our host city, as well as our organization’s forward-looking vision and welcoming spirit.

We ask you to let your students and colleagues at all levels know that we are here to support their scholarly-creative endeavors and aspirations through all the opportunities which our conferences and resources offer.  Should you have any questions or ideas, please contact me or any members of our board and we will be happy to help.  We’re always eager to hear from you!

In appreciation of our community that is the National Opera Association,

Isaí Jess

From the Vice-President for Regions

Dawn Neely

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

Hello all,

There are a number of Regions in the planning stages for events in the next year or two.

We hope to have more announcements late Summer/early Fall 2021. In the meantime, please let me know if you would like to become more active in your Region.

We have wonderful Regional Governors who would be more than happy to have your input and assistance in planning events, meetings, workshops, etc. to help promote our national organization. 

Thanks so much!


From the Finance Committee

Rebecca Renfro, treasurer

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

Happy Spring, Dear Colleagues!

I hope this newsletter finds everyone well and beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel in what has been a grueling year for all. 

Since the January conference, I have had the privilege of working with the NOA Board of Trustees to discuss the various NOA endowments.  I am grateful to our leadership, both past and present, as our organization continues to thrive.

I am looking forward to the mid-year board meeting and working with our fearless Executive Director regarding reporting under our newly established fiscal year. 

Wishing everyone a healthy and positive conclusion to their semester!


NOA 66th Annual Conference in Review

2021 Virtual Conference Session Reviews

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

Censorship, Awareness, and Evolution:
Programming and Practices for Sensitive Material”

(Review 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 Isomura encapsulated the tenor of the session best when he said simply, “Opera is for everyone.”


Staging Sexual Violence Through Trauma-Informed Pedagogy 
(Review by Lauren Carlton)

Through a series of talking points presented through visual imagery and PowerPoint, Lauren Carlton discussed techniques and philosophy behind creating a safe environment for staging (choreographing) simulated sexual violence for stage.  She emphasized the importance of establishing consent throughout the process, and urged directors and choreographers to take time before, during and after the staging event to allow the actors to establish boundaries, process their feelings surrounding the experiences, and find ways to decompress.  Additionally, she highlighted the importance of keeping the staging within the confines of the dramaturgy, and keeping the rehearsal space respectful as possible, with an emphasis on a closed rehearsal space and appropriate rehearsal attire as well as being mindful of the different levels of touch in choreographing such scenes.  She also discussed briefly the de-roling technique developed by Augusto Boal.

First Rehearsal Jitters: How to Start Staging with Old Friends You Just Met
(Review by Wesley Lawrence)

By presenting a series of rehearsal videos from his own acting class at Sam Houston State University, Wesley Lawrence discussed a variety of interactive group exercises that can aid in teaching young singer-actors how to become less inhibited during the rehearsal process. Students in the class demonstrated a variety of techniques developed by Meisner, Balk, and Bogart, among others, while Dr. Lawrence discussed the process and educational goal of each exercise.  Joining Dr. Lawrence was former student Emily Anderson, who commented on her experience with the class, and how it has aided her in her development as a singer/actor.


Responding to Covid-19: Where Do We Go From Here?
(Review by Philip Seward)

This plenary session was certainly pertinent to the situation in which many of us are working at the moment.  Panelists included USC Thornton School of Music’s Lynn Helding, opera director Crystal Manich, Opera Saratoga Artistic and General Director and founder of American Lyric Theatre Lawrence Edelson, stage director/acting and performance coach Sara E. Widzer and Artistic Director of Eastman Opera Theatre Steven Daigle.  Current NOA president, Benjamin Brecher, led the conversation.  The panelists spoke about working in a virtual environment as well as a heightened focus on community engagement.  Discussion included what kinds of ideas developed during the pandemic will continue afterwards.  The opening of the digital space includes possibilities of all kinds from streaming stage productions, creating new works for a digital space and moving completely onto film as a venue.  The hope would be to find distribution similar to independent films as an outlet for opera composed specifically for the screen.  Different kinds of collaborations were also explored including multi-composer collaborating with singers on one project.  Other ideas included creating radio shows for operas which may have originally been created for that medium, but also other existing operas which might work well in that medium.  The overall idea during this time is to incorporate technology that has been around us, but we have not previously thought to use - which may allow companies to reach potential new audiences in these new mediums.  Sara Widzer summed it up nicely with the idea that this pause in which we find ourselves allows us to create new spaces of vulnerability for performers, directors, musicians and all to find new methods for storytelling.


ÓPERA EN ESPAÑOL: A Manifesto Towards the Creation of a
New Spanish and American Operatic Tradition

(Review by Christopher Pfund)

In ÓPERA EN ESPAÑOL: A Manifesto Towards the Creation of a New Spanish and American Operatic Tradition, Dr. Tania Arazi Coambs provided a rich trove of information about composer Daniel Catán and his tireless work to give birth to a new vision of Spanish-language opera.  Dr. Coambs journeyed through Catan’s biography detailing works and successes.  She presented Catán as poetic, philosophical, and visionary.  She spoke of Catan’s belief in the deep cultural importance of opera and about the Latin/o American narrative source material that Catán integrated in his works.  Very interesting was Catán’s distinction between language and speech – that speech was a fundamental cultural communication attached to language.  Central to the session were references to Catán’s celebrated compositions including Florencia en el Amazonas, which was premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 1996.  One left the session with a new appreciation for Catán’s deep literary and cultural awareness which paved the way for over three dozen new American Operas.

The Sacred in Opera Lifetime Achievement Award
(Review by Gordon Ostrowski)

The Sacred in Opera Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Alice Parker by moderators Michelle Louer and Kurt Zeller.
Alice Parker is renowned as a composer, conductor, and teacher.  Born into a musical family, she announced that she wanted to compose at age 8 years old. She composed musical pieces for her elementary and high school before attending the Juilliard School where she studied with Robert Shaw.
Folk songs, hymns and spirituals provide the backbone for her compositional style.  However, she is prolific in all musical forms to include string quartets, 11 song cycles, 12 choral suites, 33 cantatas and 4 operas.
She has taught at Westminster Choir College, the Union Theological Seminary and Yale University. She founded an organization called Melodious Accord in 1985. She has written books on melody, counterpoint, and choral improvisation and church music.
She produced 13 acclaimed recordings with Melodious Accord. She has received numerous awards to include the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Music Center, the Aaron Copeland Fund for Music, the American Choral Director’s Association, the American Guild of Organists, and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

Young People's Opera Review:

Rootabaga Country

Music and Libretto by Rachel Peters
Adapted from Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg
Review: YPO Committee Member, Anne Basinski
Sarasota Opera commissioned this work.
It gave the premier performance on November 11, 2017.
Rootabaga Country is a charming work by Rachel Peters. The adaptation of Carl Sandburg’s work has lots of whimsy and silly word play and a large cast.  Aside from two adult men, the cast is meant to be young people - vocally it is approachable by singers from a young age through high-schoolers.
The best audience would likely be grade-school children, with the fanciful elements and  simple messages like “…things we think of as flaws can actually be assets.” (Example: “Alelia had very big feet – people joked about it – but she was faster than anyone!”) and “…family is a group that loves one another and helps one another.”



National Opera Association

2022 Conference, St. Augustine, FL

January 5-8, 2022


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