Mason Gross establishes the Opera Institute at Rutgers

The Mason Gross School of the Arts is expanding its present opera program, hiring additional faculty and broadening its performance slate to establish the new Opera Institute at Rutgers. The first class of Opera Institute students is expected to enter in fall 2011; auditions are set for spring 2011.

The school is establishing the institute as a result of a $6.6 million bequest to Mason Gross from the estate of 1977 University College alumna Victoria J. Mastrobuono. Mastrobuono, a longtime opera buff and a patron of the Mason Gross School’s performances and exhibits, specifically earmarked $1.7 million for opera scholarships and the opera program in general. Her gift is the largest ever given to the Mason Gross School of the Arts. The Bay Head, N.J., resident died in 2009.

The school also has been the recipient of the David M. Reeves and John V. Moore Jr. Fund for Opera at Rutgers and other gifts earmarked specifically for opera production, programs and scholarships.

Mastrobuono’s gracious gift to Rutgers “will serve as an opportunity to...build a nationally competitive Opera Institute,” says Pamela Gilmore, director and producer of the opera program. Gilmore says the scholarship allotment allows the program to “attract a higher level of talent to Rutgers.” The other monies will finance the hiring of additional faculty in voice and acting, as well as the production of two main-stage operas per year. At present, the program produces one full opera per year, along with various opera scenes.

Music Department chair Antonius Bittmann says the Mastrobuono bequest allows for a “much fuller and more specific tailoring of the program. There’s a more specific focus on opera and skills [associated with the art]: acting, movement, language studies for singers.”

George B. Stauffer, Dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts, says the Opera Institute will move the school forward in a number of crucial ways.

“We have wanted to build an opera program for many years,” he says. “There’s tremendous interest and enthusiasm for opera at Rutgers and in American culture, and we’ve had requests from many students for a program that focuses fully on opera training. The Mastrobuono gift is serving as a springboard to launch the institute, which will bring together existing resources for opera and allow us to create new courses and hire appropriate faculty to teach them. We anticipate bringing distinguished opera artists to Rutgers to work with our students.”

Stauffer confirms that the school is in negotiations with Nancy Gustafson, renowned soprano and general manager of the annual Castleton Festival in Virginia, to forge an alliance with the festival. Such an alliance would allow Mason Gross opera students to sing in the festival’s productions. Conductor Lorin Maazel is the festival’s co-founder and artistic director.

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