"Mannes is a unique school, and it begins with the quality of students. They are eager to learn and not afraid to make mistakes — they expect to excel," says Voice Department Chair Beth Roberts. An esteemed Voice faculty, including legendary stars, an array of performing and recording artists who have distinguished themselves with New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and many other top music organizations, attracts this caliber of student. Though admission to the program is highly competitive, the small class size draws forth a familial, supportive experience. "Students will tell me that Mannes is their first choice, and I think it is because it is a 'family competitive’ environment," Roberts says. "It is very high-level and competitive, but it has a family aspect to it you don’t find at other schools."
Many courses and electives are offered. With an emphasis on diction and language study, there are entire courses dedicated to Art Song by national tradition, including American, Spanish and Russian Art Song courses, or German lieder, French chanson or Italian aria literature. The Mannes Chorus, led by Mr. Nemhauser, is mandatory for all freshmen and sophomores not in the Orchestra, as the experience of working under a conductor is required of all Mannes students. Voice students can also elect to choose courses from across the New School, including drama courses. And if a student wants to focus on aspects other than performance, such as pedagogy, there is now a paid internship program with the Brooklyn Arts Council through Mannes, and other courses are in the works to explore issues of music education. Many Voice students have gone on to become Teaching Artists of the Metropolitan Opera Guild through the Metropolitan Opera Guild Education Department.
At Mannes, students are surrounded by industry professionals who often help students audition for festivals, agents, and managers, find church singing jobs, or sign up with professional chorus contractors and find out how to get an audition. In addition to lessons and weekly coaching, a dynamic series of monthly Master Classes with a broad range of topics, from acting to Alexander Technique to Artist Management, bring in outside professionals from the field where students can make introductions, receive career counseling, and have a lot of one-on-one advice and attention.
Learning how to learn music faster — no one leaves as a weak musician — is a strong point of the Voice program. "There is a fluency that comes with a Mannes education. We are able to 'build the voice' as well as 'polish the voice’ " Nemhauser says. "And it is in New York, so obviously part of the education is being exposed to a high level of artistry on a regular basis, from the Metropolitan Opera to Carnegie Hall."
Graduates have had a very high success rate in international competitions and at major opera houses and concerts all over the world. Recent Mannes Voice graduates who have gone on to distinguish themselves in performance careers include Mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani, Tenor Yonghoon Lee, Soprano Danielle de Niese, Coloratura Soprano Hye Jung Lee, Soprano Deanna Breiwick, Soprano Nadine Sierra, Tenor Theo Leblow, Soprano Vira Slywotzky and Soprano Jennifer Zetlan, to name but a few.
"Because the school is so small, and with so many finishing with big success stories among the small number of students compared to other conservatories, it has enjoyed an unusually high rate of success," Roberts says. "And this is in opera, art song and contemporary music, many disciplines and various career paths in the music world. Mannes is now being recognized within the industry as a bringer of quality."
If there is a recurring theme for the thriving 16-year life of the Mannes Opera, it is the importance of discovery, of embracing music of our time and as citizen artists bringing new music to the community. From staunch advocacy of living composers and New York premieres to tailoring the choice of productions precisely to the talent who audition each year, the Opera Department has taken an exciting, symmetrical approach to balancing the past with the present, with one Fall and one Spring full-scale staged Opera production each, the Fall bringing a work from the canon, such as works by Puccini, Verdi or Mozart, and the Spring a contrasting contemporary work, such as Jonathan Dove’s Flight in 2015 or Daniel Catán’s Il Postino in 2014, both New York premieres, or Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, which gave students an opportunity to participate in the late composer’s centennial celebration in 2013.
With 15 seasons conducting the Metropolitan Opera and 15 with New York City Opera, Opera Director Joseph Colaneri launched the Mannes Opera in 1998 and has been largely responsible for crafting its professional workshop approach. A highly experienced core team of Opera faculty, all of whom are active in the field and most have been teaching in the program since the beginning, are committed to the art of collaboration and the careful balance of repertory, one face in the past and one in the future. While the focus is largely on the challenge of fully staged performances, Opera students study opera literature and many facets of performance and production, including Opera studio, diction, text analysis, languages, interpretation and skills of acting, as well as the business side and new media.
The Mannes Opera’s critically acclaimed productions showcase The New School's interdisciplinary excellence, bringing together voice students, the Mannes Orchestra, collaborative piano and conducting students, as well as students and faculty from across the New School, one recent example being Parsons The New School for Design involvement in the design for Il Postino. While 85 to 90 percent of Opera students are singers, the program also involves students who concentrate on stage direction, opera accompaniment, coaching or conducting.
A supportive and professional atmosphere of connecting students into a wider world of opera is the modus operandi. Leaders in the field come to Mannes and give curriculum-based Master Classes, and many students become involved in summer festivals and programs. The Glimmerglass Opera Festival, which Mr. Colaneri also directs, has a young artist’s program, and many Mannes students have interned and participated in the Festival, with some having gone on to positions there, including two assistant conductors.
"The faculty are invested in the future of their students," Colaneri says. "We are exploring new worlds and leading them down a path of discovery. While the opera world is changing, Mannes is responding."
The drawing together of so much of the brilliance, talent and energy Mannes brings makes the Opera a dynamic and limitless enterprise for students, as it links them together in a strong intellectual and musical challenge that has grown now into an unforgettable tradition and strong artistic presence in New York. The proof is not only in the reviews, but also in the commitment and longevity of the Opera faculty, as well as the familial atmosphere that does not stop at graduation. "The door is open," Mr. Colaneri says. "Graduates often will come back to see what the next group is doing. I say, ‘come in and sing for me.’
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