Skip to main content
Articles

An Interview with Opera Director, Shea Owens

October 2022 Journal Highlight

Shea Owens, Director

What was something that stood out to you while you were a student in the School of Music?


Something that stood out to me as a student in the School of Music was how closely I got to work with the faculty. When I was a freshman I had these general education classes to kind of compare and contrast. So I'd go into a general study course; history or science and I'd be in a class with several hundred other students. I'd hardly get to talk to the professor. But in music my class sizes were very small, so I'd be able to make friends and interact with people in small groups and then I also had voice lessons which are one-on-one with a faculty member. I think that's something that's fairly unique, I'd like to think to the School of Music. So I really appreciated getting a lot of attention as I worked to further my craft and acquire better skills. As an undergraduate I got to do three leading roles in operas over the course of three years.

I mean that is unheard of at most universities. Usually if you're undergraduate you do the chorus. You'd be lucky to get a small role. Usually they reserve leading roles for graduate students. But our grad program here is small so we have space to give attention to the undergraduate students. I was really lucky.

Why Music?


Honestly, I chose music because I didn't know what else I wanted to do. I always loved music growing up, even from a very small age. My parents would sing to me as a small child and that would calm me down whenever I was upset. As I got older, I had little siblings and I would tease them or get into trouble because I'd do something. They'd put me in a corner for time out and I'd sing to myself while I was sitting there. So it didn't become a punishment for me. They knew I'd have music in my life to some extent, but college time was approaching, I didn't know what I wanted to do so I said well

I'll do music and we'll see what happens. I just kind of embraced it and thanks to some wonderful mentors and faculty I was able to do some auditions and while I was at BYU I got my first professional job. I was a member of the chorus at Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater up in Logan.

How did you get into opera?


My voice teacher in high school was giving me lessons and I did both music theater and the classical side of things. I auditioned for both but I don't think my dance skills were quite up to par to get into Young Ambassadors. I did enjoy seeing opera, I saw a few in high school. But when I got to BYU I got to see Die Fledermaus (Fall of 2003). I was very impressed with how the singers did not use microphones and yet you could still hear them in the hall. I said, "How do they do that?" So teach me!

What were some of your favorite productions?


I enjoyed all three of the operas I had leading roles. But I really enjoyed two of the three. One was Don Giovanni, it was very interesting to play my first villain per say, the star of the show but also the villain of the show. I remember at the end as I was being dragged down to Hell, the BYU Men's Chorus came into the hall wearing these robes and they sang the final chorus of "Demons." As you can imagine, how many people are in Men's Chorus, 150? 200? Them singing this final opera chorus, it was incredible.

What does the future hold for opera at BYU?


Some very exciting changes I think. My goal is to give the students a wide variety of experiences. That includes our main stage opera that we do in collaboration with the media and theater arts department, that's singing grand opera on a stage with an orchestra. That should be the culminating experience. We're also going to look at doing some smaller scale operas perhaps in the round, with some of the new venues we have in the new music building. We have Hale Theater right here and that's in the round, I'd love to give them that experience as well. We're also going to be workshopping new operas with living composers. I'm looking forward to have the students be able to work on a piece that's being written and to be able to give feedback and work with the composers, I think that's such a valuable experience.

There's a bit of a renaissance happening here in the states with new opera being written. I didn't see that as much in Europe when I was there but there's a lot of new American opera being written and it's very exciting. Opera has always been an old art form and it's not always been the most popular type of art form but I still definitely think it has a place in the arts. There's something so thrilling about hearing an acoustic voice in a hall that's resonant that you can hear and it's not amplified in anyway and it's been done that way for hundreds of years. We're going to continue to train and help the students here to be able to go out into the world and be able to do this with all the skills that they need. As well as get audiences to come and see what opera is like and see how we can make that more appealing to the masses.

What is your greatest accomplishment?


It's hard to say. I mean in the professional world you have the lights and the audience and the glory of singing in a big house and doing a show. But perhaps what I think will hopefully have been really meaningful would be some of the shows I did when I was a young artist at Utah Opera. It's sort of like an internship or fellowship in a way, it gives young artists experience. The biggest part of that job is you do shows at schools all over Utah. Introducing them to opera, for elementary schools that was in the form of a game show called "Who wants to be an opera star?" The students remember for many years. They try to get to every school in Utah within 5 or 6 years, so you get kids who saw the show in kindergarten or first grade and we'd come back again to their school by the time they're in sixth grade and they remembered the show when we came before.

So I know it had an impact on them being able to see opera singers sing in a big room and be heard without microphones. They see it being done in a really fun format that they can engage with. But we'd also go to the more remote parts of Utah, places where they don't have any kind of music program, often times they didn't have a piano, these kids barely got any kind of music. We'd go in and put on a show for them and it just changed their world. At least I hope it did because they would write us letters and tell us how much it meant to them. That's probably one of the most meaningful things I've done as a singer.

Other Stories

data-content-type="article"

Two Music Ed Students Learn as They Teach in Elementary Classrooms

May 27, 2024 08:00 AM
Ily Olsen and Olivia Hiatt—two students in the music education program—teach after-school ukulele lessons each week to fourth- through sixth-grade students. Here's a look into their experience.
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection= overrideCardHideByline= overrideCardHideDescription= overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
data-content-type="article"

Q&A with the New School of Music Faculty

May 13, 2024 08:00 AM
In this Q&A-style article, you’ll get to know five new full-time faculty members and learn their insights about music!
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection= overrideCardHideByline= overrideCardHideDescription= overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
data-content-type="article"

BYU School of Music Welcomes Guest Artists During Winter 2024 Semester

May 04, 2024 10:07 AM
Check out who visited the BYU School of Music this semester! These talented and well-known guest artists shared their talents with the BYU community in Winter 2024.
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection= overrideCardHideByline= overrideCardHideDescription= overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection= overrideCardHideByline= overrideCardHideDescription= overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText=