Giving Opera Stars a Voice; the New International Academy of Voice at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Welcomes Its First 20 Students This September. Founder and Director, International Tenor Dennis O'Neill, Talks to Mike Smith about Why This Course Is a Unique Opportunity to Train Singers, with a Heavy Emphasis on Public Performance
DENNIS O'Neill is adamant his new academy will not compete with other singing courses. It is, he stresses, a fresh offering to singers, filling a vital gap in the market.
While there are other singing courses out there, what Dennis believes is special about his new venture is the massive emphasis on performance - and the underlying principle that this is a course for working people.
The Pontarddulais-born singer has, in his career, sung in all the great opera houses including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Zurich, Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Verona, Vancouver, San Diego and Munich.
He is also a regular visitor to sing in Australia. A great exponent of Verdi, he was awarded the 2005 Verdi Medal by Amici di Verdi. Chatting to Dennis in the lounge of his Cardiff home, the international tenor produces a notepad with a list of all the work that needs to be completed before the first course starts in the autumn. It demonstrates just how much this is very much one man's vision and that its success will rest squarely on his shoulders.
Launched during the recent BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, for which both Dennis and the academy's Honorary President Dame Kiri Te Kanawa were judges, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David International Academy of Voice will be based in Cardiff and Lampeter, under Dennis' directorship. Clearly, much work had already been completed before that public announcement - yet with the new academic year only months away that to-do list still looks long.
But as he scans what needs to be done, Dennis is clearly relishing the challenge of this new opportunity, which has grown out of the earlier singing academy he ran in conjunction with the University of Cardiff from 2007. The course is part of the University's Faculty of Arts and Humanities and will lead to an MA in Advanced Vocal Studies.
While it can be a two-year part-time course the likelihood is most of the students will take the one-year MA and get straight into their professional singing careers.
Dennis explains that while two-thirds of the course will be what could be described as academic, vocal studies, one-third will be "out there".
Dame Kiri Te "Yes, the course will involve both intensive study but also crucially a third of the course will be performance with as much of this as possible being to the public.
"There are two sides to Professor Medwin with Dennis O'Neill this. Those frequent public concerts and performances will let audiences both locally and internationally see future opera stars in the making and that also means they can share in their career development.
"But vitally, and this is what I am passionate about with this centre of excellence, is that the performances will also give our students valuable stage experience and introduce many of them to the demands of performing full-scale productions. "We already have 20 students from all over the world identified for the first course in September," he says.
"We are lucky to have a very good year with some splendid singers joining us for the first course that will run from September 19 to the early summer of 2012. …