Takes Well to Direction

May 1, 2015
Daniel McGrew '15
smiling student singer and director
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Baritone Jason Goldberg '16 turned his love of opera into an individual major in directing.

Upon his graduation from Oberlin in 2016, baritone Jason Goldberg will have completed two majors: one in vocal performance as well as an individual major in opera directing. To learn more about the process of developing and pursuing an independent major in the conservatory, we asked Jason some questions about singing and directing at Oberlin.

What brought you to Oberlin?

I first heard about the conservatory from Salvatore Champagne at the Classical Singer High School Competition and chose to go to Oberlin because it has an amazing voice program that promotes undergraduate singers performing in operas. I then found a teacher that I loved to work with, Lorraine Manz. During my very first lesson with her, I knew she could help me become the performer I wanted to be. I also chose Oberlin because it is one of the few places where a conservatory and a liberal arts college coexist on the same campus, which meant I would have the flexibility and choice to take whichever classes suited me. It was also clear that as I grew as a person, Oberlin would be able to accommodate that growth; Oberlin wouldn’t constrain me.

How did you get interested in directing?

I have always loved all aspects of theater. When I was a kid, I would go and see operas and Broadway shows and would be fascinated by lighting effects, how shows were staged, and many other technical things. I also performed individual roles at the Metropolitan Opera as a boy soprano, working with Julie Taymor and James Levine, among others, and discovered that there was so much more to opera and theater than just performing. I knew I loved to sing, but I also loved and was intrigued by how everything worked in a production. When I was offered the directing major, it was a chance to explore all the aspects of theater that I had not had an opportunity to work with before.

Tell us about how the idea of an independent major came about? What does the process of declaring an independent major entail?

Sure. I went to meet Jonathon Field [director of Oberlin Opera Theater] with the desire to take his directing class and direct some scenes. After we spoke for a while, he suggested that I might be interested in pursuing an independent major to learn what it really means to be an opera director. I jumped at the chance. We then came up with a proposed curriculum for the major, which I wrote up. This proposal, along with my CV, was submitted to Dean Mary Gray [assistant dean for Student Academic Affairs] and afterwards was sent to the Individual Major Committee and was subsequently approved.

Have you found a lot of support from your instructors within the voice program? Your teacher? Directors? Etc.?

Yes, yes, and yes. I have received incredible support from the voice faculty, Oberlin administration, the Opera Theater department, and the rest of the conservatory. This major would not have been possible without their support, and they have guided me every step of the way.

Would you describe the ways in which your studies of and experience directing have informed your own performing? Conversely, how does being a singer inform the way you direct?

Well, they are both related to each other. By studying directing, you learn a great deal about all of the individual elements that make up a production. This knowledge and increased awareness of how a show is put together has enhanced my natural instincts of what to do and how to act while onstage. As a performer, knowing how to self-direct is essential. For example, sometimes there won’t be time to stage an aria and you’ll have to make it up yourself.

In addition, being a singer gives me some insight and vocabulary, which is very useful in directing operas. When issues arise, I am more likely to not only see them from a big-picture point of view as the director, but I also have a performer’s detailed perspective, which helps in figuring out what potential solutions might work.

Tell us about some of the projects you’ve been involved with related to your double major? Anything special planned for next year?

For my first project, I directed The Telephone by Menotti for the Winter Term opera in January 2015. Sally Stunkel [clinical associate professor of opera] directed the other half of the program, Strawberry Fields. Currently, I am directing a staged song cycle by Jake Heggie called Facing Forward/Looking Back. Margaret Langhorne is directing the other half of the program, which is a one-act opera by Stephen Oliver called A Man of Feeling. That show goes up in the Cat in the Cream theater on May 5 at 8 p.m.

Next year, I am planning to direct Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in conjunction with the Opera Theater and Historical Performance departments of the conservatory. It has been wonderful collaborating with Webb Wiggins [associate professor of harpsichord] and figuring out how all aspects of this process work: casting, costuming, venue selection, and budgeting, among other things. I am still putting together the details, so fingers crossed!

What is your vision for the future? Do you want to perform and direct? What’s 10 years down the road for you?

That is a difficult question. I absolutely want to be a professional opera singer, but I also love to direct. They fit together so nicely and satisfy me as a person. Ideally, 10 years down the line, I would love to be doing both! But before then, I plan on going to graduate school for vocal performance. Also, I am sure I would enjoy working overseas, having studied Italian in the Oberlin in Italy program and German in Middlebury College’s German for Singers language immersion program. In all honesty, though, I don’t know what’s going to happen after Oberlin. It’s all exciting and terrifying at the same time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Daniel McGrew is a tenor in the studio of Salvatore Champagne.

UPDATE (December 4, 2019): Jason Goldberg was successful in producing and directing Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 2016. Read more about that production in the ClevelandClassical.com preview. Since graduating from Oberlin, Goldberg has served as a member of the Chautauqua Opera’s production team and directed the Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble summer festival production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, for which he earned praise—"Jason Goldberg directed the action with sensitivity and close attention to the emotional arc” (berkshirefinearts.com).

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