2021-2022 Season,  Opera Scenes

Interviews with the Opera Scenes Creative Team

by Pollyanna Eyler

          In honor of 4th Wall Dramaturgy, here’s a quick Q &A with members of the Opera Team for the Dreams and Nightmares Opera Scenes.  Scroll down to learn about our team!

Opera Director – Shea Owens

Opera Coach Conductor – Nicolas Giusti

Chorus Master – Barbara Allen

Rehearsal Pianist – Sebastian Neugebauer

Student Opera Director – Nicole Dayton


Q &A with Director – Shea Owens

What was your first foray into opera? I didn’t get into opera until I was in college, and the  first one I attended was Die Fledermaus at BYU. I was so impressed by the production (especially the singers) that I auditioned for BYU’s School of Music and got into the Classical Voice Program right before my mission. When I returned, I was offered a lead role in The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. It was a bit of a trial by fire doing a lead role without much operatic experience. But I learned so much, and it set the stage, literally and figuratively, for future opportunities that would come.

What are your favorites in the world of opera? I enjoy playing the villain in operas, such as the title character in Don Giovanni. It’s fascinating to explore characters that I have so little in common with in real life. One of my favorite experiences took place in a venue that wasn’t a big, glamorous theater, but a big empty space in the basement of a church in Canada. I liked it because it was run by young people who didn’t have a lot of money, but did have a lot of grit, and they completely transformed that space. It felt very special being a part of that production. 

What insights do you have for patrons attending Opera Scenes?  For opera scenes, the focus is on the students and the stories. We use minimal costumes and props, but this allows us to choose scenes from different operas and showcase many more students than in a normal opera. We try to make the scenes fun and enjoyable for everyone in the audience, regardless of their level of opera experience. 

What recommendations do you have for those wanting to break into opera at BYU? When trying to get into BYU’s School of Music, don’t dismiss the essay questions. Sometimes it comes down to comparing two students with similar voices, so we look at their answers to the essays. Spend some time thinking about why you are auditioning and why you want to train in this program. And then tell us about it! 


Q &A with Coach-Conductor – Nicolas Giusti

What was your first foray into opera? My home with my family in Belgium (even though I was born in Italy, we moved to Belgium when I was a toddler). My Dad worked in radio and every day I heard opera music, and one day I said something prophetic, “Dad! Why do you have to play opera every day? I hate opera!” And now, ironically, I am in the opera business. Then we moved back to Italy when I was 15, and I got my Ph.D. at a University in Italy. My first opera to conduct was La bohème.

What are your favorites in the world of opera? I have two favorite operas for my heart and three for my brain. I love Madame Butterfly and La bohème, even after decades, I can cry every time! The other three I love are The Marriage of Figaro, Falstaff,  and Gianni Schicchi because they represent power, love, and money! I worked with the most important singer in the world, Mario del Monaco. I also worked under the tutelage of the best instructor, Maestro Antonio Tonini. I learned 100% from him! I was in awe of him, he basically ‘kidnapped me!’ (implying that Tonini took Nicolas in as his protégé).

What insights do you have for patrons attending Opera Scenes? Maestro Antonio Tonini had a good ear and discovered Nicolas during an audition of over 200 other pianists. Tonini said he could hear all of the types of musical instruments when Nicolas played the piano. Nicolas said, even when I am conducting, I have all of the instruments in my head. So listen for these tonight in the conducting of Dreams and Nightmares Opera Scenes!

What recommendations do you have for those wanting to break into opera? As much as Nicolas Giusti admires the singer Mario del Monaco and the Maestro Antonio Tonini, Nicolas credits the one true master, Jesus Christ, as the guiding light in his life.


Q &A with Vocal Coach – Barbara Allen

What was your first foray into opera? I’ve always liked opera since I was very young. I grew up in Provo and my parents were BYU faculty members. I used to see BYU opera when I was a teenager. The Marriage of Figaro might have been the first opera I saw. I got my Bachelor’s in Piano and Master’s Degree in Musicology here at BYU, then I got my Doctorate in Piano at the University of Illinois.

What are your favorites in the world of opera? Some of my favorites are Mozart, Strauss, and Verdi. I love Verdi! If you’re doing art songs in German, then you listen to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, everybody listens to him because he’s one of the most beautiful singers in German.

What insights do you have for patrons attending Opera Scenes? I love watching the singers succeed, listening to the singers make music out of these little notes on the page.

What recommendations do you have for those wanting to break into opera? Listen to great music. Listen to it every day, all day. Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to what the great singers sound like. Get the sound of the great composers in your head—know what Mozart operas sound like, and the string quartets and the symphonies! You have to be immersed in this great music so that you know what it feels like, what it sounds like.

I wrote a book, Sing for Me! because that’s what I say when students come for a lesson, I say, “Sing for me!” The book has chapters on how to prepare and advises students to have the work ethic. We had a student at BYU, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, who didn’t get in the first year she auditioned for BYU’s Vocal Program, but she had the instrument and the work ethic. She said, “I just want to be a part of it, I’ll sweep the floor, I’ll do anything!” Then she got a cover role in a BYU opera and she is now a world-famous Soprano! You have to have the instrument, you have to have the personality, you have to know how to be on stage, but you have to have the work ethic!


Q &A with Rehearsal Pianist – Sebastian Neugebauer

What was your first foray into opera? I was born in Stuttgart, Germany. I love EDM (Electronic Music) and have a website: www.snmusician.com, where I showcase projects and records for clients. In 2011, while playing percussion, I went on a tour with my orchestra to the Baltic States (North East Europe) and saw my first opera, Don Giovanni, in Riga. Listening to an orchestra in an opera setting was a game changer for me!

What are your favorites in the world of opera? There are many. Puccini, Rossini and Verdi to name a few.

What insights do you have for patrons attending Opera Scenes? Know as much as you can about the piece. In Europe, we have to always keep in our mind a nearly unattainable goal as a musician to know everything you can about a piece. But remember, there is always something you don’t know, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know everything.

What recommendations do you have for those wanting to break into opera? Always remember why you started music to begin with. Try to be broad in your musical ability and more general in your musical talents. As a warning, when you hear the adulations of others who may call you “talented” — don’t allow yourself to become complacent, instead, continue to improve!


Q &A with Student Director – Nicole Dayton

What was your first foray into opera? I’ve always loved singing, but my first opera to see and perform in was La Boheme at BYU. I auditioned with a friend and was cast in the chorus. I was impressed by the quality of the sound that I heard (which I now understand to be resonance) and realized that I would never be completely fulfilled in my life if I didn’t learn to sing in such a way.

What are your favorites in the world of opera?  La Boheme was my first, so it holds a special place in my heart. Puccini composes music with great emotion and it is hard not to love. In addition, this last year I have sung a variety of arias and scenes from various Mozart operas, and because of the progress I’ve made vocally with his music, he is my most admired classical composer at this point in my life.

What insights do you have for patrons attending Opera Scenes – especially the one you student-directed, Hansel and Gretel? I recently went to an artistic leadership intensive where I received a female opera director mentor to work with throughout the year. Up to this point, all of the directors I have worked with were male and I’ve wanted to explore the directing side of opera during my undergrad to see if it’s something I would be interested in pursuing in the future. She encouraged me to reach out to Professor Owens to see if I could student-direct a scene for the opera, which resulted in the great opportunity to direct Hansel and Gretel. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process: developing a concept for the scene is very inline with my introspective personality; however, communicating those ideas effectively to the singers during rehearsals was much more difficult than I anticipated!

What recommendations do you have for those wanting to break into opera? Don’t care what people think about you. Developing healthy vocal and performance techniques requires a lot of grit and patience, but it is exceptionally rewarding. It is a beautiful process of making peace with yourself, your body, and the people/world around you. Don’t give up, even when it feels like the easier and less vulnerable option.


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