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Letter to Students, 2011–12

Checklist of Dates
Th 8/25 Meetings with new students Fr 9/2 & Sa 9/3 Callbacks for major productions
Th 8/25–We 8/30 Interviews with Mr. Brunyate Tu 9/6–Fr 9/11 Optional audition feedback
Mo 8/29–We 8/31 Diagnostic Auditions Tu 9/6 Mandatory meeting, 5:00 pm


Season Overview

Quick links:
New students
Casting policy
Chorus participation
Faculty & Staff

The outline of the 2011–12 opera season can be seen in the Season Calendar (currently in skeletal form). With a few exceptions, its theme is modern American opera. This is reflected in the two major productions, The Rake's Progress and The Crucible, and the Theatre Project production of Postcard from Morocco by Peabody alumnus Dominick Argento. The outreach show, Ariel's Tempest, is a new musical treatment of by Douglas Buchanan and Roger Brunyate. The season begins in Richmond with the preview production of two short operas by American composers for the College Music, and will end with the biennial program of Opera Etudes, new one-act operas written by Peabody composers in conjunction with the singers who will perform them. More traditional opera is represented by scenes in the October Opera Potpourri, the co-production of Vivaldi's Griselda in conjunction with the American Opera Theatre, and in the regular classes and coaching programs of the department.

Meetings for New Students

All incoming students who are interested in opera performances or classes should come to a meeting in the Opera Studio, 114 Leakin Hall, on Thursday August 25, at the following times: 9:45–10:45 for graduates, or 11:00–12:00 for freshmen and undergraduate transfers. If you can’t make one of these times, it is better to come to the meeting for the other group than to miss out altogether. People who have already been at Peabody in another program are not required to attend.

The Turn of the Screw
Opera in Friedberg Hall: The Turn of the Screw


All students, whether new or returning, must sign up for an interview with Roger Brunyate between Thursday August 25 and Wednesday August 31. Sign-up sheets for these will be posted on the Opera Board outside the Opera Office (114 Leakin Hall); these will also say where Mr. Brunyate will be on any particular day. The purpose of these interviews is to get to know new students and to touch base with old ones, establishing preferences and priorities for the year ahead. Please schedule your interview before your diagnostic audition (see the following section). Please also bring the completed Personal Data Form with you to the interview; these forms can be picked up outside the Opera Office.

PAPAGENO run-out in Washington DC
Rapt audience for a Peabody Outreach performance

Diagnostic and Call-back Auditions

Diagnostic auditions are required of everybody except who wishes to participate in any aspect of the Opera program (including classes). These will take place in the afternoons and evenings of Monday August 29 through Wednesday August 31. Audition times will be assigned by the department, so that singers from one studio can sing together and be heard by their teacher; times will be posted on the Opera Board. Unlike in previous years, freshmen and Opera GPD majors will sing diagnostic auditions with their regular studios.

For the diagnostic auditions, singers should be prepared to offer two arias. One of these must be in English, unless the singer is a native English speaker who has sung for us before. One or both of the arias should be simply staged, so that we can see how the performer creates a character in a dramatic context; do not use any but the simplest of props. [These requirements will be interpreted liberally for underclassmen, who may audition with one or more songs rather than arias if they wish, and/or perform a musical-theater excerpt, whether staged or not.] New graduate students who wish to be considered for the Dramatic Text class are also asked to prepare a one-minute spoken monologue. Singers may sign up on the opera board to rehearse briefly with the staff accompanist in advance of the auditions; they are also welcome to bring their own accompanist.

Callbacks for major productions will be held in the afternoon and evening of Friday September 2 for all productions except The Rake's Progress and the morning of Saturday September 3 for solo roles in Rake. These will be held on a sign-up basis for those invited; names will be posted by 10:00 on Thursday morning. Given the relatively short rehearsal time for our productions, preference will be given to singers who can show that they have already made substantial progress in learning the role for which they are applying. Specific required excerpts have been assigned for each major role; these will be posted on the Opera board. Roles in the productions of the Opera Workshop and Opera Outreach will be assigned from the diagnostic auditions without further callback. [See Production Organizations for more information on these categories.]

Singers interested in participating in Griselda should indicate this on their audition forms, and may be asked to audition for the Early Music Department on Thursday 1 or Friday 2 September, in addition to any major-production callback.

Please note, however, that since most roles for the year will be cast in early September, singers who do not make themselves available for the diagnostic auditions and callbacks may not get cast unless they have obtained a special dispensation in advance. Also note that singers may not sign a binding contract with a professional chorus affecting their second-semester availability until the casting has been completed.

Dido and Aeneas
Dido and Aeneas at Grace and St. Peters’


During the week after auditions, the faculty of the department will hold feedback sessions, in which students may ask for more information about how they came across in their auditions. These are entirely voluntary, and will be held on a sign-up basis. You should know that while the faculty always aim to be objective in support of the singer's longer-term development, we would not be any use to you if we were not honest, and some students in the past have found our comments uncomfortable to hear. If you are new to us, of course, we say what we do on the basis of having heard you once or possibly twice, and there is certainly much more to you than we could ever know. Nevertheless, most of the jobs that singers get are secured on precisely this basis — as the result of singing for somebody who hears them only that one time — so it is important to know how you actually come over in such circumstances, as opposed to how you think you do.

The creative team for THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
Producing an opera: The Yellow Wallpaper

Casting Policy

We work carefully to distribute performance opportunities among the students in the department, with an ear for potential as much as for talent. So far as possible, we try to give a varied diet over a student’s career, in terms of scale, genre, and period. Inevitably, more opportunities tend to go to the more advanced performers, although we try to program works suitable for younger singers also. Where several singers are suitable for a role, preference is given to full-time students in good academic standing. We have always tried to give every singer a role in an Opera Theatre or Chamber Opera production before they graduate, but must emphasize that this depends on numbers and the balance of voice-types and so cannot be guaranteed. Furthermore we generally do not give singers more than one sizeable role per year, except where this is unavoidable due to numbers; the main exceptions are Opera GPD majors, who are required to perform each semester.

All roles in the present season are open to audition; none have been pre-cast. All roles in Ariel's Tempest and major roles in The Crucible will be double-cast. Unfortunately, schedule limitations will preclude double-casting The Rake's Progress and most probably Postcard from Morocco, although covers will be appointed for all roles. Because Griselda is a collaboration with American Opera Theatre, one or two of the roles may be cast with non-Peabody singers, and Early Music majors will have priority for the others, though everybody may audition.

While casting decisions are made by the faculty of the department, all performance assignments are checked with the student’s voice teacher before being posted, and the teachers have the final say. Very occasionally, we may have to withdraw a singer from a role during rehearsal if the teacher feels it is becoming harmful. Teachers do not nominate their students for roles, however, and casting is made without regard to studio. We also discuss our choice of repertoire with the Voice faculty each year before it is announced.

Chorus Participation

Generally, at least one production each year involves a chorus; this year, the only chorus opera is The Rake's Progress, to be given at the Lyric Opera House in November. Stravinsky's chorus is almost a major character, and a master-class in acting, with four different roles over the course of the three acts: whores and “roaring boys,” citizens of London, avaricious auction vultures, and madmen. This chorus will be assigned at the time of audition, but it will not preclude participation in other activities at the same time or later.

The Crucible does not have a chorus as such, but there is a sextet of teenage girls, all of whom have individual characters and their own musical lines. There may also be walk-on parts in several of the presentations during the year.

Kathryn Guthrie as the Queen of Night Two Papagenas: Jessica Abel (top) and Sarah Hershman
Backstage at The Magic Flute

Faculty and Artistic Staff

While not all details have been confirmed as yet, we expect the following people to work with the department during the course of the year:

Further information on all these people may be found by passing your cursor over “People” in the menu box at the top left of this page.

In addition, we welcome a new addition to our staff, Catrin Davies. Catrin is our Department Administrator in charge of all the scheduling and administrative business. She is a graduate of the Peabody Opera department, and has worked for OPERA America, Baltimore Opera Company, and Live Arts Maryland. She is assisted this year by a half-time assistant and other student workers yet to be appointed.

Our accompanying assistants for the year will be YunKyung Choo, John Wilson, and Chi Xu. Other pianists will also take on specific classes and projects during the course of the year.

The Magic Flute, March 2008
The final product: penultimate scene of The Magic Flute


Click here for a list of the Opera Department’s regular classes. The following additional points should be noted:

Photo credits: Jesse Hellmann (Peabody Outreach); Peter Wen-Chih Lee (Dido and Aeneas and backstage); Corey Weaver (The Turn of the Screw, The Yellow Wallpaper, and The Magic Flute). 

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Department Chair: Roger Brunyate