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Renée Fleming unveils Lyric Opera’s Merit School collaboration

Lyric Opera of Chicago Creative Consultant – and star soprano – Renée Fleming revealed details of a new collaboration between the world-renowned opera company and Chicago’s Merit School of Music in a media conference at the school on Monday, September 12. This collaboration – part of Lyric’s Renée Fleming Initiative – will benefit teenagers in a new Opera and Musical Theater solo voice major at Merit’s Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory.  Other Merit students will also participate in Lyric offerings. 
Joining Fleming were Lyric President and CEO Kenneth G. Pigott, who also serves on the Merit board; Lyric General Director Designate Anthony Freud; Ryan Opera Center Director Gianna Rolandi; and Merit President Duffie Adelson.
Since Lyric announced the Renée Fleming Initiative, plans have solidified for the long-term collaboration between Lyric Opera and the highly regarded community music school, which is based on the near-west side of Chicago, less than a mile from the Civic Opera House. Founded in 1979, Merit School of Music is regarded as a principal leader in providing extraordinary music education and life-changing experiences for Chicago-area children through music. Of the more than 6,000 students participating in Merit’s numerous programs, 375 have been selected by audition for Merit’s advanced program, the Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory.
“The collaboration between Lyric and Merit School of Music, one of the country’s best community music schools, creates an exciting and extraordinary environment for teens with vocal potential,” said Fleming. As part of the company’s Renée Fleming Initiative, “Lyric will assist Merit in enhancing its vocal program and will make Lyric Opera more accessible to all Merit students.” Fleming’s background is in music education as well as performance; both her parents were high-school vocal music teachers in public schools.
Merit’s new solo voice major for teens
Fleming noted that Merit has always offered vocal instruction through its many choirs as well as a voice major through its Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory. Now, though, the Merit-Lyric partnership has inspired the creation of a more intensive opera and music-theater track. The solo voice major program has now enrolled, by audition, 46 students, who receive instruction every Saturday during Merit’s 2011-12 school year, from October through early May.
“Participants may concentrate on opera and music theater or on jazz, through the American songbook,” said Fleming. Merit’s voice faculty has developed a curriculum that encompasses private and group vocal instruction covering vocal technique and solo repertoire; instruction in language, diction, acting, and movement; and music theory, among other subjects.
“Merit will provide ongoing weekly instruction for solo voice students, and Lyric will provide an extension of those studies through access to performances and professionals,” Fleming continued. “Many of the learning opportunities provided by Lyric will also be made available to non-vocal students at Merit. Young people won’t just be attending performances; learning opportunities provided by Lyric through its education department will be integrated into their studies at Merit.”
“As I said when I was named Lyric’s general director last April,” stated Anthony Freud, “my goal is to excite and stimulate the Chicago public – including students such as those at Merit School who previously may never have considered that Lyric Opera can be relevant to their lives. Chicago is a wonderfully diverse and vibrant city, and as one of the city’s truly great institutions, Lyric can and must provide broad and deep cultural service to communities throughout our city – as exemplified by this exciting collaboration with Merit School. We are one of the world’s finest opera companies, and we must also be a community resource, always addressing the unique needs and attributes of our city.”
Said Fleming, “As you can tell, Anthony shares my passion for arts education and reaching audiences in innovative ways.” She then outlined the details of the multifaceted Lyric-Merit collaboration, which comprises the following elements in its inaugural 2011-12 season:
Details of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s collaboration with Merit School of Music

Renée Fleming will work with Merit solo voice major students via Skype, three times during the 2011-12 school year.
Lyric Opera of Chicago will provide Merit students with access to selected performances at the Civic Opera House.
375 students will attend an Opera in the Neighborhoods performance of La Cenerentola at Merit on Saturday, October 8, administered by Lyric’s Education Department and Ryan Opera Center.
200 Merit students will attend the dress rehearsal of The Magic Flute on Saturday, December 3.
Lyric’s Education Department, which annually serves more than 100,000 children and adults through a range of programs, will offer pre-opera presentations to help prepare Merit students for performances.
On Saturday, March 17, Lyric’s Education Department will provide special backstage tours for the entire tuition-free conservatory, combined with a “career day” in which Lyric personnel – including Renée Fleming – will speak with the students about the many facets of the art form, from working behind the scenes to performing onstage.
A Ryan Opera Center Recital Series is being launched this season as part of Merit’s Live from Gottlieb Hall Performance Series, which is presented exclusively for the Merit community.
During “Opera Buddy for a Day!” Merit solo voice majors will shadow members of the Ryan Opera Center during a typical day in the center’s program and observe them as they prepare for their roles in the 2011-12 opera season.
Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director, will conduct a working session with the Merit Symphony Orchestra this season (date TBD).
Lyric’s Education Director Mark Riggleman will be available to Merit staff throughout the school year.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago-Merit School of Music joint venture is sponsored by James Reynolds, Jr./Loop Capital Markets.
Click here to read the full news release from Lyric Opera of Chicago for more complete coverage of the September 12 media conference.
LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO press contacts:
Susan Mathieson Mayer
Magda Krance: [email protected]
Jack Zimmerman: [email protected]; (312) 332-2244
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