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Reinhardt students learn one-on-one with prestigious opera music director

By Erika Neldner

JoAnn Kulesza brought her professionalism and wisdom to selected School of Performing Arts students at Reinhardt University. Kulesza is the music director of the Peabody Conservatory Opera, serving between 85 and 100 singers per year.

“She helped our students understand the level of professionalism and preparedness required to have a career as a professional opera,” said Cory Schantz, assistant professor of music-voice. “There is so much more to being an opera singer than just the voice. Preparation, hard work, willingness to sacrifice, all play a part. She clearly reinforced these things, which their teachers have been telling them.”

Students Michael Vavases, Brianna Perez, Katherine Manettas, Lexie Stinson, Sarah Beegle and Anne-Carine Exume had the opportunity to work one-on-one with Kulesza, and each one received individualized assistance.

“She tailored her remarks depending on the needs of the student,” Schantz said. “Sometimes she focused on the meaning of the text, both actual and hidden. Sometimes she focused on issues of musical style, ensuring that each student was adhering to historic performance practice.”

Senior Katherine “Kat” Manettas enjoyed the masterclass and a private coaching with Kulesza, something she said was greatly beneficial in her preparation for a role she is performing early next year.

“Ms. Kulesza was professional, funny and knew exactly what she wanted from all of us. Those are all traits that I admire and am working toward,” Manettas said. “I performed the aria ‘Come scoglio’ from Mozart’s ‘Così fan tutte.’ She gave me so much insight regarding how to make the character more believable, as well as how to give the piece more dimension. Her teaching us that ‘I affect the music, the music doesn’t affect me’ really hit home for me as an actress. I am so grateful for the experience because in February I will be singing the role of Fiordiligi in ‘Così.’ I cannot wait to use both of our ideas of who Fiordiligi is to develop a truly dynamic character.”

Kulesza’s visit also entailed a question-and-answer session during which the older Reinhardt students were able to talk with her about preparing for graduate school and what they need to look for in a graduate school.

Kulesza’s professional career is rich with experience. Currently the interim chair and music director of the opera department at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland, Kulesza produces six to 10 performances per year. She teaches classes in recitative, repertoire and works with collaborative pianists and conductors at the school. She has had the opportunity to work with the renowned Margaret Hillis at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and served as an assistant to Chorus Master Philip Morehead at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Kulesza was the chorus master for Wolf Trap Opera Company for many years and prepared the chorus for Washington National Opera's Romeo & Juliet in 2004, under Maestro Bertrand de Billy. She presently conducts the Arundel Vocal Arts Society, a chorus of 35-45 members, in two concerts annually, of a wide variety of repertoire; she is in her eighth year as Music Director of this ensemble.

Since entering the conducting realm, Kulesza has conducted three world premieres and led as well as played continuo for productions of Mozart, Rossini, and Britten. She has worked with some of the most notable conductors in the field – Loren Maazel, George Manahan, Heinz Fricke, Stephen Lord, Margaret Hillis – and is in demand as a clinician and educator around the country. She made her Opera Omaha debut in February '11, conducting and playing continuo for Mozart's Don Giovanni.


JoAnn Kulesza

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