Vocal Arts and Opera Theatre are thriving at OU


The annual Benton-Schmidt Graduate Voice Competition provides scholarship awards up to $40,000 to promising incoming graduate students. Awards will be given based on excellence in vocal performance and versatility as revealed through the performance audition. Scholarship prizes are for the academic year beginning Fall 2014. To receive a scholarship, singers must apply by January 1, 2014 to The University of Oklahoma School of Music as a graduate student in a music degree program with voice as a primary performance area. The voice competition will be held February 1, 2014 on the OU Norman campus. Funds for these scholarships were made possible through the bequest of Joseph H. Benton, internationally-acclaimed tenor, long-time teacher and devoted supporter of vocal art, in honor of his much-revered voice teacher at the University of Oklahoma, William George Frederick Schmidt.


Scholarships and graduate assistantships are available. A limited number of opera fellowships for graduate students are available and include cost of living stipends.


Students studying the vocal arts at the OU School of Music develop their vocal powers of personal expression through performance and pedagogical discipline. Students receive one-on-one training with OU's highly-acclaimed artist faculty. Working closely with the Voice and Opera Theatre faculty, students participate in recitals, concerts, opera theatre, master classes, and seminars. In addition to one-on-one personal training with voice faculty/artists, students have the access to private sessions with excellent vocal coaches to assist with diction and language subtly to polish their performance. OU's vocal program is designed to provide students with a competitive edge in the pursuit of a professional music career, teaching career, or continued higher education.


A complete opera training program is offered by the OU School of Music Opera Theatre. In addition to individual vocal study and coaching, graduate and undergraduate classes in movement, acting, opera history, and technical production help prepare OU students for exciting and rewarding careers in opera. OU Opera Theatre presents two fully-staged opera productions each year with state-of-the-art lighting and acoustic technology. Opera students also have the opportunity to participate in master classes with world-class artists, including visiting faculty artist-in-residence, the legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.

Ms. Marilyn Horne

"Ms. Horne's masterclasses here at OU are always well attended," says Tyrone Chambers, an alumni of the OU School of Music. "Not only by music students, but by their friends, other OU faculty members who are friends with Ms. Horne, the members of the OU Musical Theatre and Opera Guild are always there and others. It is usually a packed house."

The University of Oklahoma School of Music welcomes back legendary opera mezzo soprano, Marilyn Horne, widely considered to be one of opera’s greatest singers. Horne will serve as a visiting faculty member within the OU School of Music, holding private lessons and masterclasses for OU's voice students on Nov. 16-20. The masterclasses scheduled for 7 p.m. on both Tuesday, Nov. 17 and Friday, Nov. 20, in Pitman Recital Hall are free and open to the public, granting opera fans and music lovers a rare opportunity to see the outstanding singer up close, working with students in a small, intimate environment.

"I would suggest bringing paper and a pencil. Ms. Horne is always throwing out names and performances that anyone can find on YouTube or somewhere online. If anyone is interested in opera, it is a good idea to watch and listen to other singers perform," says Chambers.

President David Boren asked Horne to become a visiting faculty member after her visit to OU to inaugurate the Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall during the dedication of the second phase of the University's Catlett Music Center. He realized the impact someone of her stature could have on OU's voice and opera students. Horne first began working with OU students in 1998.

"I have known and worked with Ms. Horne at the University of Oklahoma for quite a few years. She is such an asset to our education here," says Célia Zambon, soprano, doctorial student in voice at OU School of Music. "She visits once a semester for a week to give us private lessons and masterclasses."

"Ms. Horne cares a lot for her students, and I know I can always call her on the phone or send her an email if I need anything; she's happy to help. She is a wonderful lady, who is on a mission to share her wealth of knowledge and experience with the next generation of classical musicians. Her coming to OU is a great gift and privilege," says Zambon.

These masterclasses are free and open to the public and located in Pitman Recital Hall inside the Catlett Music Center at 500 W. Boyd Street, in the OU Arts District. Due to the intimate setting for the class, seating is limited.

For more information about Horne's upcoming visit to OU, the masterclass, or for accommodations on the basis of disability, please contact the OU School of Music at (405) 325-2081

Dr. Elizabeth Avery

Assistant Professor of Music (Vocal Coach)
Office: CH 306
Phone: Please contact via email
Email: elizabeth.avery [at] ou [dot] edu

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coming soon...

Dr. Joel Burcham

Professor of Music (Voice)
Office: CH 304
Phone: Please contact via email
Email: joel.burcham [at] ou [dot] edu

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American tenor Joel Burcham has firmly established himself as a young professional in the world of opera and classical music. He is known for his dominant stage presence as demonstrated through sensitive acting and "effortless command of his voice." further described by Chris Shull of the Wichita Eagle as a tenor voice of "clarion tone and operatic power." "Burcham's soft voice," declared Jim Edwards of the Chicago Tribune, "was lyrical and smooth as silk but when he opened up his voice, beautiful loud steely notes poured forth." This versatile tenor voice has appropriately enabled Mr. Burcham to command leading roles with several of North America's top companies.

Operatic highlights include performances of La Traviata, Rigoletto, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot with opera companies to include: Opera Fort Collins, Knoxville Opera, Madison Opera and Opera Omaha. Mr. Burcham made his professional operatic debut with his portrayal of Lindoro in LÕItaliana in Algeri with the Central City Opera.

Also a distinguished oratorio and concert performer, Joel Burcham has performed with the Madison Festival Choir, Wisconsin Chamber Choir, Littleton Symphony, Larimer Chorale, Boulder Mahler Festival, Madison Symphony, Wichita Symphony, Opera Omaha, Wisconsin’s Camerata Orchestra and Utah Symphony with whom Burcham fulfilled a return engagement.

Born and raised in Nashville, Illinois, Burcham received the Bachelor of Arts in Music from the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Summa Cum Laude, the Master of Arts in Voice Performance from the University of Arkansas and the Doctorate in Musical Arts from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Ms. Donna Cox

Instructor (Voice)
Office: CH 314
Phone: Please contact via email
Email: dmcox [at] ou [dot] edu

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Donna M. Cox, Soprano, is an Professor of Voice at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, As a pedagogue, she has facilitated vocal master classes in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, North Carolina, and New York.

As a concert soloist, she has performed a vast number of works; Gabriel and Eve in the American Premiere of Haydn's Creation with OU's School of Music & Dance Department collaboration in April 2012, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus, Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass, Theresan Messe, Bach's Magnificat and Kantata 129, Beethoven's Mass in C Major, Mozart's Requiem, Rutter's Masses, Mozart's Vesperae K. 339, Brahms's Requiem and Mendelssohn's Elijah. In February 2007, she performed with Dave Brubeck in his mass, To Hope, with the Canterbury Choral Society under the direction of Russell Gloyd.

Operatic roles performed are Leila in Bizet's Pearl Fishers, Belinda and Second Woman in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Giulietta in Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, Susanna in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Lucia in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, and Carolina in Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto.

As a recitalist, Mrs. Cox has performed on university campuses and venues both stateside and abroad.

The soprano, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, is an alumna of the Eastman School of Music, where she earned B.M. and M.M. degrees in Voice Performance. She is currently a doctoral cohort, pursuing the degree of Doctor of Education in the College Teaching of Music at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her area of research explores the development and implementation of teaching strategies for singers experiencing articulation malfunctions.

MM (Voice Performance and Literature) Eastman School of Music
BM (Voice Performance and Literature) Eastman School of Music

Mr. William Ferrara

Associate Professor of Music (Opera)
Office: RPAC 1265
Phone: (405) 325-6752
Email: wferrara [at] ou [dot] edu

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William Ferrara
Stage Director of Opera, University of Oklahoma School of Music

Professor Ferrara enjoys an international reputation as a stage director and acting and directing teacher for opera. In his thirty-year career he has directed more than 150 productions of plays, musicals, and operas at colleges and professional theaters in the U.S., Italy, and South America. Ferrara earned a graduate degree in opera stage direction from Indiana University in 1981. He taught at the University of Northern Iowa beginning in 1984, and joined the faculty at the University of Oklahoma in 1995.

Prof. Ferrara was guest director at the International Opera Festival of the Amazon in Brazil 2007-2009. This May, he will be guest artist at the State Music Conservatory, Fundação Carlos Gomez in Belém, Brazil. Next summer, Mr. Ferrara will return to the Opera Viva Summer Institute for Singers in Verona, Italy, where he teaches acting for singers and has designed a new course in opera directing for college teachers.

Professor Ferrara's new textbook, Staging Scenes from the Operas of Mozart: A Guide for Teachers and Singers, will be available in print and e-book from Scarecrow Press and Amazon.com starting in April, 2014. The book will be published in Portuguese and Chinese as well, and Mr. Ferrara is scheduled for a book/lecture tour of China in 2015.

Mr. Kim Josephson

Associate Professor of Music (Voice)
Office: CH 303
Phone: Please contact via email
Email: kjosephson [at] ou [dot] edu
Website: www.kimjosephson.com

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Mr. Kim Josephson is hailed as one of opera's most versatile baritones and a regular guest of leading opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera where, since 1991, he has performed more than 250 performances of 29 roles including, most notably, the title role in Rigoletto, Germont in La Traviata, Marcello in La Boheme, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, and Belcore in L'Elisir d'Amore to name a few. He has also appeared at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, most notably as Eddie Carbone in the world premiere of William Bolcom's A View from the Bridge, and from the standard repertoire, Rigoletto, Germont, Marcello, and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.

Elsewhere in the United States, he has appeared with the Seattle Opera as Rigoletto, Jack Rance in La Fanciulla del West, Houston Grand Opera, Baltimore Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Connecticut Opera, and Spoleto Festival U.S.A., Sarasota Opera, and Tulsa Opera. In Canada, he has graced the stages of Vancouver Opera and Opera Hamilton. In Europe, he has appeared on the stage of Vienna State Opera as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, Germont, Enrico, Belcore, and Marcello. He has also performed in Japan and in Germany on tour with the Metropolitan Opera.

Though much in demand for the classic repertoire, Mr. Josephson is a passionate advocate for new music. He recently created the role of Fred Jesson in the World Premiere of Andre Previn's Brief Encounter with Houston Grand Opera available on Deutsche Grammophon and created the role of Billy Foster in Stephen Schwartz's Seance On A Wet Afternoon with Opera Santa Barbara.

Mr. Josephson's interpretation of Eddie Carbone in the World Premiere of A View from the Bridge is available on CD from New World Records. He has also appeared on television in four broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, all available on video recording: La Fanciulla del West, Arabella, Carmen, and Billy Budd.

Kim Josephson is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Houston where he earned B.M. and M.M. in applied voice. In addition, he has studied voice with Franco Corelli, Louis Quilico, Michael Trimble and Jean Preston. He is the recipient of many honors, including William Sullivan/George London Foundation Award, Baltimore Opera Vocal Competition, Enrico Caruso International Vocal Competition, Loren Zachary Foundation Award, Puccini Foundation Award, Babgy Foundation Award, Bruce Yarnell Award, Singer's Development Foundation Award, and a Richard Tucker Career Grant.

MM (Applied Voice) - University of Houston
BM (Applied Voice) - University of Houston

Dr. Dolores Leffingwell

Associate Professor of Music (Voice)
Office: CH 305
Phone: Please contact via email
Email: daleffingwell [at] ou [dot] edu

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Dr. Dolores Leffingwell, soprano, has sung leading soprano roles in opera, oratorio, and chamber music concerts under the batons of James Levine, Robert Koff and other conductors. She has been described by Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe as having "real quality in her voice, real beauty in her singing", and by Arthur Hepner as having "a genuine feel for the vocal art and that special charm it takes to draw the essence out of Lieder." Following her undergraduate work at The Juilliard School, Dr. Leffingwell was a recipient of the Schwabacher and Copen Grants for two years of study in Munich, Germany, where she appeared in recital and received a contract with the Vienna Kammer-oper. Her major teachers include Beverly Peck Johnson, Ellen Faull and Phyllis Bryn-Julson. Her former students have won competitive places and scholarships at The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Aspen and Tanglewood Summer Music Schools, Central City Opera Apprentice Program, Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony, and some have continued on with major performing careers. At Syracuse University while pursuing her masters degree, Dr. Leffingwell became a member of a research team investigating the singing voice headed by Martin Rothenberg, PhD. She continued this work as a founding member of The Singers' Clinic through the Hollingsworth Voice Laboratory, directed by Keith Clark, MD, PhD in the department of Otorhinolaryngology at the OU Health Sciences Center and at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. With the support of a Peabody Career Grant, Dr. Leffingwell premiered 13 of the 21 unpublished Lieder by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel that she had collected in Berlin, Germany. After three years as a teaching associate on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music where she completed her doctorate, Dr. Leffingwell joined the faculty of the University of Oklahoma, where she is currently tenured. Dr. Leffingwell has performed as a solo recitalist in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Arts Council Touring Program, has toured as a recitalist and master class presenter nationally, and especially enjoys premiering American song cycles written for her voice by such composer colleagues as Christian Asplund, Carolyn Bremer and Michael Lee. From 2004 until the summer of 2008, Dr. Leffingwell served as Chair of the Voice Department at the University of Oklahoma. During the summer of 2008, Dr. Leffingwell was one of five international adjudicators who judged the Tremplin International 2008 and the National Finals of the 2008 Canadian Music Competition, in Quebec City. She continues to train graduate and undergraduate singers and, in her spare time, to write poetry.


"...Petite in size but not in voice, Leffingwell is amply endowed with vocal ability. She has power, range and color, which she uses intelligently and tastefully and with great assurance...In every instance the composer was treated to a manner consonant with his style. She has a genuine feel for the vocal art and that special charm it takes to draw the essence out of Lieder." - Arthur Hepner, THE BOSTON GLOBE

"The musical setting [of Agrippina] contains some of the most extended and difficult coloratura and demands the greatest fierceness of expression. Miss Leffingwell negotiated the fioritura with both vocal assurance and the kind of projection and involvement that made the ornaments seem dramatically motivated." - Ellen Pfeifer, THE BOSTON HERALD AMERICAN

"Miss Jessel sung by Dolores Leffingwell made the greatest impression of the evening. Here is a voice with power and ease of projection, a lush ringing top register, excellent middle placement. Her diction was impeccable. It was with Miss Leffingwe... that the opera suddenly began to radiate the theme in full dramatic impact." - John Brenner, OPERA REVIEW

"...topped off by Dolores Leffingwell's beautifully sung and acted Elsie. Miss Leffingwell is a newcomer this year and a real find." - William Bender, THE NEW YORK TIMES

BA-English Literature and Philosophy, Mount St. Joseph College, Ohio
MM-Syracuse University, 1986
DMA-The Peabody Conservatory of Music of The Johns Hopkins University, 1990

Mr. Lorne Richstone

Assistant Professor of Music (Vocal Coach)
Office: CH 311
Phone: Please contact via email
Email: lrichstone [at] ou [dot] edu

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Professor Lorne Richstone was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. From 1982 to 2006 he was on the coaching staff of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Germany, where he played under a host of prominent conductors and coached and appeared in performance with many of the world’s leading singers.

In addition to his duties as an opera coach, Mr. Richstone taught vocal repertoire at both the Hans Eisler Hochschule für Musik and Universität der Künste in Berlin. He is presently artistic advisor to the Hong Kong Festival and has performed frequently at the Macau International Music Festival in China. He has concertized and has given master classes in Germany, United States and Canada. He coached "Magic Flute" for the Opera Lyra Ottawa, Canada, "Don Carlos" in Riga, Latvia, "Carmen" in Shanghai, China, and "Romeo et Juliette," "Le Nozze di Figaro," and "Rigoletto" at the International Music Festival Macau, China. At the prestigious Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland he played productions of "Madama Butterfly" and "Der Fliegende Holländer".

His recordings include "Carmina Burana" (Orff) and "Salome" (Strauss) for Deutsche Gramophon, "La Vita Nuova" (E. Wolf-Ferrari) for Koch-Schwann and "Jakob Lenz" by W. Rihm for Harmonia Mundi.

Lorne Richstone joined the University of Oklahoma School of Music in September 2006 as Assistant Professor of Vocal and Opera Coaching.

Dr. Jonathan Shames

Associate Professor of Music (Orchestral Conducting), OU Opera Theater Artistic Director
Office: CMC 127 D
Phone: Please contact via email
Email: jshames [at] ou [dot] edu

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Dr. Jonathan Shames is Director of Orchestral Studies, Music Director and Conductor of the OU Symphony and Artistic Director and Conductor of OU Opera Theater. His previous positions included the music directorships of the Wyoming Symphony; the Olympia (Washington) Symphony; and the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras and its Marrowstone Music Festival. He came to OU from the University of Michigan, where he was Associate Director of Orchestras and directed the University Philharmonia and Contemporary Directions Ensemble. Shames also has been music director and conductor of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras and the Olympia (Washington) Symphony Orchestra.

Shames' work as musical assistant to Sarah Caldwell of the Opera Company of Boston (at age 19) led to his first conducting opportunities, when Caldwell invited him to lead performances of Puccini's Girl of the Golden West and Mozart's Don Giovanni. Since that time, he has frequently been associated with the company, leading several tours and Boston performances. Shames has conducted the Reno Chamber Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic, Richmond Symphony, Sewanee Festival and Pine Mountain Festival Symphony Orchestras.

As a pianist, since winning a finalist diploma in the 1982 Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition, Shames has performed in France, Finland, South Korea and the former Soviet Union as well as across the U.S. Together with his wife, pianist Stephanie Leon Shames, he founded and served as artistic director of The Boston Players, a chamber music ensemble that performed from 1992 to 1997. He has recorded with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, toured with the Radio and Television Orchestra of Belgrade, and appeared as soloist with the Seoul Sinfonietta, the Chattanooga Symphony, the Seattle and Tacoma Symphony Orchestras and the Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Boston Pops Orchestras, among others.

Shames studied piano performance at the University of Michigan with Theodore Lettvin and Leon Fleisher. He was a conducting fellow of the Tanglewood Institute in 1994 and has worked with Seiji Ozawa, Bernard Haitink, Gustav Meier, Gerard Schwarz and Samuel Jones. He has taught at Cornell University, SUNY-Binghamton, Rutgers University, the Chautauqua Institute, Oberlin Conservatory and Interlochen.

BA (Philosophy)-Yale University
MM (Piano Performance)-University of Michigan
DMA (Piano Performance)-University of Michigan