Cori Ellison, Dramaturg
Cori Ellison, as full‐time staff Dramaturg at New York City Opera from 1997‐2010, has been responsible for the company’s production dramaturgy, program book, and supertitles, as well as its adult outreach programs, curating both its preperformance event series and creating and curating its acclaimed Opera Matters series of collaborations with other noted New York cultural institutions. She continues to serve New York City Opera as a consultant on selected productions and projects. She has also served as dramaturg for Francesca Zambello’s production of the Ring Cycle, co‐produced by Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera. In 2009, she served as dramaturg for Opera Boston’s production of Shostakovich’s The Nose, and in 2006, was dramaturg for a triple bill of Offenbach operettas at the Bard Summerscape Festival. In 2005, she co‐curated and narrated soprano Elizabeth Futral’s program “Handel at Home”, the closing event of the annual Chicago Humanities Festival, and she curated the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s opening concert, an all‐Beethoven gala.
Ms. Ellison’s English singing translation of Hansel and Gretel, commissioned and premiered by New York City Opera, has also been performed (in a general‐use adaptation recently published by Schott) by Houston Grand Opera, Atlanta Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Kentucky Opera, Berkshire Opera, and Opera Roanoke. Her singing translation of Shostakovich’s musical comedy Cheryomushki (Cherry Tree Towers) premiered at the Bard Summerscape Festival in August 2004, and her singing translation of Spontini’s La vestale, commissioned by English National Opera, premiered there in April 2002. She is currently developing a new English‐language performing edition of Mozart’s The Impresario with YardArts.
Ms. Ellison regularly appears as a commentator and Opera Quiz panelist on the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcasts, and has been guest commentator on WNYC’s “Soundcheck” and “The Tristan Mysteries”, WQXR’s “First Hearing”, and other radio programs. She has contributed articles to publications including the New York Times, Opera News, Gramophone, BBC Music, and Ms, and to books including The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, The Compleat Mozart, and the Metropolitan Opera Guide to Opera on Video. She has also been a contributing writer for PBS’s Metropolitan Opera Presents TV series.
Ms. Ellison has long been a regular lecturer and panel moderator for New York City Opera, Cincinnati Opera, the Guggenheim Museum’s Works and Process series, and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. She has presented talks and interviews for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, Carnegie Hall, Seattle Opera, Dallas Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Boston, Glimmerglass Opera, Bard Summerscape Festival, Opera Orchestra of New York, Great Performers at Lincoln Center, Mostly Mozart Festival,Berkshire Choral Festival, American Opera Projects, Schomburg Center for Black Culture, Paley Center for Media, Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre, the New School, Opera Index, and the Wagner Societies of New York, Chicago, Washington, and Northern California, as well as at The Royal Opera House/Covent Garden, the Covent Garden Festival, Ireland’s Wexford Festival, and Switzerland’s Verbier Festival, and on board Cunard’s Queen Mary II, under the auspices of Oxford University. She has also served on the faculty of The Juilliard School’s Evening Division, was Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music at New York University’s School of Continuing Education, and has often taught for the Explore New York! Elderhostel program. She currently teaches a course in the art of the opera libretto for American Lyric Theatre’s Composer Librettist Development Program.
Ms. Ellison is a member of the Board of Directors of the Sibelius Society in the United States.
Ken Benson, Opera Expert & Former CAMI Agent
Ken Benson joined Columbia Artists Management, Inc. in 1986 and for the past 25 years headed his own division as Vice President.
Well-known and respected for his broad knowledge of repertoire and voices, during that time he represented such artists as Harolyn Blackwell, Patrick Carfizzi, Rod Gilfry, Marcello Giordani, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Lucas Meachem, Susanne Mentzer, Aprile Millo, and Florence Quivar, among many others.
Mr. Benson is regularly invited to give classes at Yale University, Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University, Mannes College, Hartt School of Music, as well as for many of the Young Artists Programs of major opera companies throughout the U.S. The content of the classes includes auditioning techniques (choice of repertoire, presentation, press material), management, career building, and the great tradition of operas’ past. Mr. Benson has judged vocal competitions for the Metropolitan Opera, Opera Index, Inc., Juilliard Vocal Honors Recital, The Savannah Music Festival, and others.
Since 1996, he has appeared each season on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcasts, on the Opera Quiz, Record Collector’s Roundtables, panel discussions and presenting biographies of great singers. In 2010-11 he launches the New York City Opera's "Listening Room" series, with recorded material and discussion for each opera in this season's repertoire.
Mr. Benson is also a contributor to Opera News magazine.
Reneé Rodriguez, Theatre and Drama
Reneé Rodriguez (Director) is an award-winning director, actress and private coach. She has directed in several cities throughout the United States, with critical acclaim for her direction of Don’t Dress for Dinner at Chanticleers Theatre in San Francisco, earning several prestigious awards including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Production, and Turn of the Screw in the Bay Area as well. She worked with Idaho Shakespeare Festival, directing their apprentices in addition to a production of The Winter’s Tale as part of their children’s programming. In Chicago, Reneé directed many new works. Then in Indiana, she directed contemporary plays, including one of her favorites, The Credeaux Canvas, and directed for Bloomington Playwrights Project (featured in February’s American Theatre magazine). In New York City, Reneé has directed several productions with new playwrights, working with companies such as Redd Mask Theatre, Piper Theatre Company, Tree Trunk Productions, Chatterton Presents, and other independents. For Curious Frog, she has directed Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo & Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Scavengers. While in San Francisco, she helped start the Act Now! Theatre Company, and helped rebuild and market CTA Crossroads Theatre. Both theatres are thriving today with full seasons and subscription rates. In 2007, Reneé founded Curious Frog Theatre Company, which is in its fifth season.
Up next in 2011 for Reneé: Climbing (with CFTC); Rope of Sands (with Planet Connections Festivity); Two Gentlemen of Verona (with CFTC) (www.curiousfrog.org for details). MFA Indiana University Bloomington.
W. Stephen Smith, Professor of Voice and Opera
W. Stephen Smith is currently Professor of Voice and Opera and Northwestern University. W. Stephen Smith joined the Voice Faculty at The Juilliard School in the fall of 1998 after having served for eight years on the voice faculty at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. He has held a position on the voice faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School since 1996 where he was honored in 2001 as a “New Horizons” faculty member. Additionally, Mr. Smith was on the staff of Houston Grand Opera as Voice Instructor for the Houston Opera Studio from 1990 to 2003. He is in great demand as a voice teacher for many professional and aspiring professional singers in New York City and around the world. After moving to Houston from St. Louis where he was Chairman of the Voice Department at the Saint Louis Conservatory of Music, he maintained a voice studio in St. Louis for three years. He was a member of the music faculty at Oklahoma Christian College for eleven years and has also been on the artistic staff at Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony and the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company. He holds the Bachelor of Arts degree in Voice from Harding University (voice study with Erle T. Moore), the Master of Music degree in Voice from the University of Arkansas (voice study with Richard Brothers), and the Master of Performing Arts degree in Opera from Oklahoma City University where he was a voice student of the late renowned Inez Lunsford Silberg. Other teachers include Dr. William White.
Mr. Smith has given master classes and clinics throughout the United States, including the Aspen Music Festival and School, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Oberlin Conservatory, and at Regional and District NATS conventions. He has also been a guest lecturer at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grand. Mr. Smith's voice students have performed leading roles in most of the major opera houses and concert halls around the world including the New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, London's Royal Opera at Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, La Scala, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Paris Opera, Oslo Opera, Vancouver Opera, Miami Opera, Sarasota Opera, Omaha Opera, and Des Moines Metro Opera among many others.
In addition to numerous places in the District and Regional Metropolitan Opera Auditions, twenty- five of his students have been National Finalists in the Met Auditions.