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Spring 2024 Issue

Cover for Spring 2024 Issue of NOA Now

The Team behind your Spring 2024 Issue

Ann Maria Wilcox-Daehn, Editor

Isaí Jess Munoz, contributor

James Haffner, contributor

Kristin Ditlow, contributor

Eric Gibson, contributor

Shawn Marie Jeffery, contributor

J. Bradley Baker, contributor

Jourdan Laine Howell, Editorial & Graphics Designer

Hello There, Now Readers!

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Reaching New Heights in 2024

A word from our president, Isai Jess Muñoz

Dear NOA Members,

I'm thrilled to welcome you to the inaugural edition of NOA Now, our freshly reimagined newsletter, formerly known as NOTES. As your newly elected President, I embark on this journey with great enthusiasm, aiming to guide our organization into a vibrant era of innovation, growth, and unity.

At the core of NOA lies a profound commitment to showcasing the transformative power of opera in shaping human experiences. Beyond mere performance, our efforts delve into the essence of the human condition and the ever-evolving dynamics of society. In a world of constant change, it's crucial that we hold true to the values upon which NOA was founded. Our unwavering dedication to purposeful endeavors and fostering community within our ranks remains our top priority.

Guided by our mission to champion excellence in opera performance, scholarship, and pedagogy of opera, the Board strives to nurture a dynamic membership community, identifying strengths and growth opportunities to amplify our impact. We're committed to supporting our members by highlighting best practices, providing resources, and facilitating avenues for professional development.

In this edition of NOA Now, you'll find a wealth of insightful articles that reflect our dedication to these goals. From Eric Gibson's exploration of food security in "Opera Brings Food to the Table" to Kristin Ditlow's tutorial on mastering modern arias, and Brad Baker's spotlight on opera blogs and podcasts, each contribution offers invaluable perspectives and resources for our community. Furthermore, artist manager Shawn Marie Jeffery's advice on board-building is particularly relevant for young artists navigating the industry. Our heartfelt thanks to Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn (Editor of NOA Now) and Jourdan Laine Howell (NOA's Communications Associate) for their efforts in relaunching our newsletter with such splendor.

Looking ahead, I warmly invite you to join us in Savannah, Georgia, for the 70th Annual NOA National Conference, titled Building Together – Curating Tomorrow, where we'll join forces with the NATS Winter Workshop for an unforgettable reunion. The call for conference breakout session proposals is now open through May 1st. In the meantime, I encourage you to stay connected through our emails and upcoming opportunities.

Jess Muñoz headshot

I am deeply grateful for your unwavering support, dedication, and passion for opera. Together, let's embrace this new chapter in NOA's journey with vigor and unity.

Warm regards,


Isaí Jess Munoz

President, National Opera Association

Jess Muñoz signature

Move & Act

The Michael Chekhov Acting Technique—Psychological Gesture

by James Haffner

Training opera singers to be singing actors has often been regarded as a difficult task. Psychological realism does not effectively serve the genre; traditional techniques do not adapt consistently well to the unique demands placed on opera performers. Such practices usually result in a separation of music and acting, creating performances that are untruthful, forced and potentially harmful to the artist. There is also the obstacle of operatic tradition: ‘this is the way the role is performed’; ‘rules’ such as ‘do not move as it is distracting’; ‘movement interferes with proper vocal technique’. Moreover, singers often receive little to no formal instruction other than perhaps observing a director’s demonstration. The Michael Chekhov approach to performance, however, requires no adaptation in its application to music-theatre. The tenets of the technique can be expressed fully in musical form, which facilitates a more integrated and richer performance approach.

3 tenants of the Chekov method

Young singers tend to regard the throat as the source for impulse for their work as opposed to what Michael Chekhov describes as the Actor’s Ideal Center. The result is the singing head effect, where the performance is concentrated from the neck up creating a disconnect with the singer’s body. Another common trap is the singer will attempt gestures (albeit ‘habitual’ gesturing) resulting in acting from the shoulders and/or elbows. This inevitably leads to a high level of tension potentially (and usually) inhibiting the vocal technique. By engaging in a physical approach to the character, singers will reconnect the voice to the rest of the body, limiting physical (and vocal) tension and expressing full presence of character.


These three steps—sending out an impulse (beginning), executing the movement (middle) and allowing the movement to radiate, or resonate, from the body (ending)—is described as the artistic frame. The artistic frame is the blueprint for all movement. Master teacher Lenard Petit describes this more succinctly as conscious movement. He states that “we do not use it in performance because it takes too much attention, and our expression will appear stilted;" in the world of opera, however, the artistic frame brings new life to a performance acting as a physical (harmonic) expression of the music and text.  In many cases the composer has left clues in the music for the singer-actor to discover something in terms of the character’s physical life.  For example, Mozart is clear in his musical portrayal of Leporello in the opening scene of Don Giovanni.


Moving beyond the concept of the artistic frame (beginning, middle and end) are the rules of gesture which include the following components: every gesture should be full-bodied, simple and strong. While the building blocks of the Michael Chekhov technique are arguably “concentration” and “imagination,” the cornerstone of this method is the psychological gesture. In brief, the psychological gesture (PG) can be described as the ‘physicalization’ of the character’s action/objective or the character’s will/need. Currently, there are eleven archetypal PG’s, that include:

Text for Checkov Article

The archetypal PG’s are designed to be a starting point for an actor in developing a character; eventually, the gesture can be more exact.  For example, after initially choosing to engage in the PG of “smash,” the actor might delve deeper to discover that the gesture is actually “crush.”  And of course, the initial archetypal form of the gesture will evolve into something more actor/character-specific.


The psychological gesture kata was designed by master teacher Mark Monday and fellow teacher Susan Cato-Chapman as a means of creating a warm-up exercise but also a way of engaging in daily training akin to a ballet dancer at the barre. In addition, the PG kata gives actors a starting place of discovery on the journey of character creation and development.

Interested in seeing the Chekhov technique in action? Watch James Haffner and his students in this demo clip on YouTube. Let us know if you try the exercises in your own rehearsal space.

James Haffner headshot

James Haffner is Professor of Opera at University of the Pacific's Conservatory of Music, a certified teacher of the Michael Chekhov acting technique, and an Artistic Associate with the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium.


Setting the Score: Learning a New Aria

by Kristin Ditlow



Opera companies today are requiring arias from new works (works written in the 21st century). How can we approach the process of learning them, correctly, perhaps without a recording, and in a way that sticks (that notes and rhythms don’t modulate to “approximatura” over time)? These steps will help singers, pianists, coaches, teachers, and conductors to conquer new musical horizons. 
Score Marking
Mark in beats, especially for scores with complicated rhythmic notation. Meter changes can be frequent in this type of repertoire. Note and mark the following: 

Woman reading music on a music stand


  • Meter 

  • Pattern being conducted or felt (example: a fast 3/8 could be felt-conducted in 1) 

  • Who has the fastest subdivision (quite often it’s in the strings) 

  • Equivalencies over meter changes (does the old eighth note equal the new one, or is the larger pulse equivalent?) 

Helpful Hint: For tablet users, having separate “layers” in a PDF reader or ForeScore may be helpful here.

Practice Steps
Separating all of the musical elements is crucial in learning any new piece well. Breaking down new musical concepts is a way to ensure success. Don’t skip steps.






  • Text-only, as a monologue (no rhythm) 

  • Text in rhythm (no pitch) 

  • Pitches-only in legato, in an easy part of the voice and a middle dynamic 

  • Rhythm-only on neutral syllable

  • Pitch and rhythm on neutral syllable (no text) 

  • Learn in sections, slowly as applicable, on-book.

  • Memorize only when all above musical elements are completely secure 

Pitch Content 
Contemporary music can be riddled with pitch challenges. Getting starting pitches, singing non-chord tones, tones which are not found on a piano (micro-tones), and pitches which are dissonant with the accompaniment are all part of this repertoire. Here are some exercises or considerations: 

  • Isolate each starting pitch and find exactly where you’ll get it (from the piano? from yourself?). Mark it in the score. 

  • Find each onset pitch related to your last pitch. 

  • For notes which are dissonant to the accompaniment, label the accompaniment chord. (Do not be limited to “standard music theory.” Get creative here! Does the chord look a D Major chord with an additional E-flat, B-flat, and an F-sharp doubled on the top? And you sing a B-natural? Write that down). 

  • If something is able to be navigated with solfège or scale degree numbers, in whatever system you are most comfortable, mark that. Do it to really solidify musical elements. 

Sheet music with a record

Finding the Rhythmic Groove – To Beat, or Not To Beat? 
Knowing the subdivision and rhythmic layers to any piece of music is critical to an effective and exciting performance. This is more paramount with complex polyrhythms, metric modulation, or complicated text setting. 

  • Find the basic pulse of the music (see above). 

  • Work out the “math” of equivalencies. Is the piece 66 to the quarter? That means that the half is 33 and the eighth is 132. Use the metronome on all of these levels in order to solidify subdivisions (eighth); basic pulse (quarter) and a longer sense of the phrase (half). 

  • Eventually, we want to get away from a beating quality or too many “accents” on the texts. Being strict with the pulse and subdivision will allow for ultimate freedom.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat
As we develop our twenty-first century repertoire, sometimes things don’t stay in the ear (in the hands, in the voice) the way that other common-practice tonal music does. Go back and review all of the above steps with the same vigilance that you used the first time. 
The “Dip” 
Creative endeavors often have a low-point of motivation or feeling like we’re “getting anywhere.” Conquering a new piece of music naturally will have this, and points will come where we want to “give up,” change pieces, or start cram-panicking a practice session. Just keep swimming.
As with anything, several low-stakes “at bat” performances will lead to a piece solidly ready for auditions, recordings, or an operatic production. Within this context (studio classes, self-recording for study), be sure and take notes. Repeating mistakes in a performance setting will only help to solidify said mistakes. Catch, correct, and eliminate errors which occur. 

image in collage of complex polyrhythm
Kristin Ditlow headshot

Kristin Ditlow is a conductor, collaborative pianist, concert pianist and Associate Professor of Vocal Coaching at the University of New Mexico and all her many accomplishments can be seen at

Expert Corner

Opera Brings Food to the Table

by Eric Gibson

Food items in collage

I am a “closet designer” – I actually enjoy designing my own stuff. Hansel and Gretel seemed a “natural” fit for the use of enormous dining tables as it revolves around food (lack of food in Act 1, foraging for food in Act 2, and food as a weapon and sugary, bad food in Act 3). We rented 3 huge dining tables from a local theatre and we were on our way to forming a production. One table was used for H & G’s house: a single 7’ long table with a ratty tablecloth and an empty breadbox. Two tables forming a 14’ long table were used for the forest with a massive, long green tablecloth that symbolized the grass. For the third act the final table was added to the mix, creating a 21’ long tablecloth filled with cookies, cakes, cupcakes, a blender, a microwave (we nuked our witch in a slightly updated production), and white satin tablecloths. I must admit I had a lot of fun!

I don’t always try to find a societal “connect” with opera because at times it can seem forced. I’m a fan of letting art stand on the merits of art.  But one morning about three months from opening night, on the drive into work I heard an interview on the local NPR station with an Ohio State University Professor who works in Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The topic was food insecurity. She talked about the habits of people suffering food insecurity and the “connects” went off in my mind about how that all related back to the opera. I pulled the car over and took notes and got the professor’s name.

We had lunch – this professor and I – and it was one of the most informative, mind-blowing research activities into an opera I’ve ever done. And by near complete accident! It informed many of my staging and design choices.  As our presentations are free to the public, we decided to partner with the Buckeye Food Alliance and ask the audience to bring a canned good item for admission to the show. Over three performances, we collected nearly 400 lbs. of food for the Alliance. It was an overwhelming show of support.

It was a perfect blend of serving the art without compromising the art, satisfying a societal need by collecting the food items for the Ohio State University Food Pantry, and bringing out an interesting aspect of the opera that might be overlooked in a traditional context. This last aspect also helped the students dig deeper into their characters and inform their process in the staging. There was more “meat on the bone” for them versus just doing a traditional Hansel and Gretel.

Eric Gibson headshot

Eric Gibson is Opera Stage Director and the Area Coordinator of Opera at The Ohio State University (although he has been known to still yell, Go Blue!).

Advice for the Emerging Artist

Building Their Board

Helping aspiring artists navigate the opera field

by Shawn Marie Jeffery

The end of the academic year is fast approaching, and soon a new class of graduates will go forth in pursuit of a career in the Performing Arts.  Leaving the universities and conservatories is a daunting step for these aspiring artists, and often they feel unsure on how to move forward or how to process the contradictory messaging they receive from the industry.  We can’t do this work for them, but we can make sure they leave academic institutions with the tools and the support system they need to successfully navigate this field.  One of the best ways we can do that is to encourage them to them to build their “board.”

Yay Opera! Now What?

What does this mean?  Each of these artists should view themselves as their own business, of which they are the CEO. Anyone starting a business needs a good board, and a sound group of advisors to succeed.  For our artists, these are the people who have already invested in them, who know and understand their product and how to market it in the current artistic climate, and who can help them open doors to opportunities for which they are appropriate.  Providing tools and methods by which they can do much of this work on their own is important, but making sure a support system is set up for them prior to leaving the relative security of academia is key to their success.

How does the board function?  What are their actionable items?


  • Opening doors: Until such a time as an artist has a manager who can help to open doors and get them in front of people, this “board” functions in that capacity by being a group who will make a call or send an email on behalf of the artist to open a door to an opportunity.  I know this works. The endorsement of someone known to the company/program to which the artist is applying can make the difference between their being heard or not.

  • Vetting opportunities: This is where it is important to be sure to advise these eager artists not to fill their board with “yes men.” It is crucial that they have people around them who they trust who can tell them “no.”  That this may not be the right time to sing for that company or to do that competition or that role - not just yet. 

  • Help in deciphering the many - differing - opinions they will inevitably receive from all the people who will be hearing them.  This is so essential as conflicting advice absolutely will be given on what the right rep is, or what their next steps may be. Knowing who to listen to, and what well intentioned advice to let go, can be incredibly difficult. 

  • Providing general support and guidance:  Help in choosing between engagements if there are multiple opportunities. Selecting the right audition repertoire for various auditions. Advice when they are at an engagement and may have some sort of conflict or problem, or just being there to vent to or to act as a sounding board can make such a difference as these young artists make their way into the professional realm.  Having a “board” in place offers a sense of support and security.

Opening doors
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So, who is on this “board?”  Those people who know the product - who understand what the development process has been for the artist, where and how they may be most marketable, and how to plan for their further development. Teachers, coaches, directors, and conductors with whom the artist has worked and had good rapport and a positive experience. These are all great candidates for their “board.” And a mentor. Ideally this would be someone of the same voice type - but further along in their own artistic journey, who can provide support, assurance, and guidance as well as a bit of hindsight perspective when needed.


Having a “board” in place as they begin their journey allows aspiring artists to explore with abandon the path before them, knowing they have a guiding system in place to assist in their navigation of it.  


For additional tips on understanding your performing arts career as a business check out this new release by savvy NOA members Kirsten Chávez and Johnathon Pape: Living the Dream - Building a Sustainable Career in the Performing Arts

Shawn Jeffery headshot

Shawn Marie Jeffery is Vice President/Classical & Creatives at UIA Talent Agency in NYC.

She regularly shares her insights on the business at universities and young artist programs. sjeffery@uiatalent.comRead about Shawn Marie Jeffery here.

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Read More About It!

Opera Blogs and Podcasts

by Brad Baker

Do you find yourself closing a social media or news app on your phone just to reopen it immediately? I certainly do. Like many, I’ve become increasingly troubled by the amount of time I find myself mindlessly scrolling on my phone. To use this time more productively, this year I’ve been trying to be more intentional with my device usage. To that end, I have recently enjoyed exploring the world of podcasts and blogs by some of the bright minds of our beautiful profession.


Below is a list of the opera-related podcasts and blogs that I have enjoyed exploring recently. Some are lighthearted and enjoyable, while others dig into the serious issues of our corner of the musical world. Some are written and recorded by industry leaders while others are produced by upcoming giants. Next time you find yourself beginning to succumb to doom scrolling, check out these podcasts or blogs on your favorite platforms! Enjoy!!

Multiple computers in collage


Diary of an Opera Singer

“A professional soprano’s unfiltered tell-all of divas, drama, and the day-to-day.” Rhoslyn Jones shares her thoughts about life in the industry – unfiltered, thought-provoking, and well-written.

Mindful Mezzo

A mezzo-soprano who has been in the Opernhaus Zürich professional chorus for 30 years, this blog includes writings about her beginnings and day to day life in Opernhaus Zürich. Beautifully written articles that inspire perseverance and practicality. 


The inimitable and inspiring Kathleen Kelly produces this blog with burning questions based on a career as a pianist, coach, and conductor at the highest level of our industry. These are important, well-written, and well-considered articles that inspire further thought about the direction our operatic world is going.

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Aria Code logo
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What is opera anyway logo



AA Opera

Self-described as a podcast all about “backstage confessions,” podcast includes frank and candid interviews with many operatic stars. It is fun, lighthearted, and fantastically interesting!



Aria Code

Produced by the Met, this fantastic podcast features an in-depth look at one aria per episode with insights from the opera stars who sing them. Often, the episode will feature guests who are experts on the topic of the aria.



Opera Box Score

Do you like sports AND opera? Me too! This podcast discusses opera with luminaries of our day, like Francesco Zambello, Ryan Speedo Green, Isabel Leonard, and more, with sports sound effects. It is a good time, and includes fascinating discussion!


Opera Glasses

Hosted by Elizabeth Bowman, Editor-in-Chief of Opera Canada. Features numerous interviews with Canadian artists.


Opera for Everyone

This delightful podcast is hosted by the New Zealand soprano Patricia Wright and features overviews about well-known and lesser-known operas, as well as interviews with friends and guests in the industry. 



Thrilled to Announce

Produced by Charlotte Jackson and Perri di Christina, this podcast categorizes itself as a “leftist opera dreamspace.” Charlotte and Perri discuss the hot button topics that need to be addressed in our industry. Entertaining and needing conversation!



What is Opera, Anyway?

Aimed at answering the question in its title, this podcast discusses diverse topics about the industry. Example titles of podcasts include: “La boheme without the stovepipe: Rethinking stage design,” and “What is a drag queen in opera, anyway?”

Brad Baker headshot

When J. Bradley Baker isn’t listening to smart things on his phone, he is Principal Coach at the Glimmerglass Festival, Co-Founding Executive Director, & Music Director for Music On Site, Inc. and an Assistant Professor of Collaborative Piano at Tarleton State University.

From the Editor

Ann Maria Wilcox Daehn headshot

​I hope you’ve enjoyed our inaugural Issue of NOA Now. In each Issue, we want to include your perspective on a variety of topics: career advice, new repertoire, acting methods, choreography ideas, thoughts from our Affinity groups, introductions to new members, or wisdom from established colleagues. If you have a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me.


Thank you for the contributions from our committee James Haffner, Linda Lister, Kristin Ditlow, Brad Baker, and Shawn Marie Jeffery. Our next Issue drops in the Fall! 

Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn

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