Like many others, I was shocked and saddened to learn about the cessation of OperaWorks as of August 2018. OperaWorks has touched the lives of over 2000 singers, teachers, directors, coaches, artist managers, and arts administrators since its inception in 1987. I was fortunate to attend the Teacher Training Program in 2008, and it was an incredibly transformative experience. What does that mean for OperaWorks founder and director, Ann Baltz? She shared with me her thoughts about OperaWorks and what projects are on the horizon.
Created in 1987 by Ann Baltz, OperaWorks was one of the classical music world's most cutting-edge training programs for singers and teachers. Having pioneered a strong holistic curriculum, the company boasts an impressive alumni list that include Grammy Award winners, international career singers, teachers on voice faculties throughout the United States, and arts administrators in well-established companies. OperaWorks' positive, once-radical methods are now being incorporated into training programs, companies, and conservatories throughout the industry (www.operaworks.org).
What made you decide to step away from being Artistic Director of OperaWorks?
As OperaWorks grew and expanded to year-round programs and productions, my administrative responsibilities increased as well. At heart I am a creator and an educator, and I’m comfortable with taking risks. I realized a few years ago that I had become ‘careful’ in my decisions because I felt responsible to so many more people. I have a post-it on my computer that asks, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ After reading that every day for several years, I took the risk to leave the known and leap into the unknown. I was eager to have more time to continue as a consultant, speaker, teacher, writer, and creator of new productions that speak to social issues. OperaWorks grew out of an exciting ‘What if…?’ and, with the increased administration and responsibilities that go along with a growing business, I had lost that inner spark.
How has OperaWorks evolved over the years?
The concept for OperaWorks began in 1986 and in 1987-89 OperaWorks established two-week programs in Tampa and Pittsburgh. Our first program had 5 faculty who taught Performance Techniques, Musical Improvisation, Alexander Technique, and individual coachings, all of which formed the core of OperaWorks.
Following a 1990 winter program in Phoenix, my husband David Aks and I moved to Northridge, CA, where California State University, Northridge became the new OperaWorks home. Workshops and improvised performances in New York City and Los Angeles began in 1997. In 1998 Our Los Angeles summer programs expanded to a four-week Advanced Artist Program, adding a two-week Emerging Artist Program in 2003, a Voice Teacher Program in 2008, and a two-week Winter Intensive Program in 2013. The advantage of running an independent company is that I could easily add to our programs’ courses as needed for new demands in the industry. For example, 18 years ago I added daily yoga followed by marketing, career planning, and social media to every program. It’s exciting to see other programs and schools starting to add some of these classes now.
What were your goals in the beginning?
My goal for OperaWorks was never to train singers to be ‘international stars’ but rather to bring out their unique gifts, and to teach it in a positive way that addressed the whole person. Two people who influenced me tremendously in the Merola Program were Wesley Balk, director, and Margaret Singer, head of the coach program. I can trace the holistic seeds of OperaWorks’ programs to them.
What I am most proud of is that through OperaWorks, we gave each person the permission and encouragement to discover their own creativity. It is really amazing what performances singers can give when they are not afraid of being wrong. Following their hearts, doing the work required, being prepared, and stepping outside the ‘traditional’ career towards unexpected opportunities has led them to careers in the Arts where they feel authentic and fulfilled.
Stay tuned for Part Two later this week.