Creative Achievement Award
Douglas helps Temple Opera Theater hit high notes
It’s hard to miss associate professor John Douglas, this year’s winner of the Creative Achievement Award, at a Temple Opera Theater performance: He’s the company’s most visible symbol, the man with the baton.
But that’s only the most conspicuous role Douglas has played in guiding Temple Opera’s dramatic ascent to national prominence and educating a generation of Temple voice and opera students.
As Temple Opera Theater’s music director and conductor since 1989, Douglas has helped create opera productions that have earned national honors and critical acclaim. Two of Temple Opera’s recent productions, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (2003) and Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz (2004), claimed top honors — Temple’s first ever — in the National Opera Association’s last two Opera Production Competitions, the only national opera competitions of their kind. In last year’s contest, Temple Opera Theater competed in level one, going head-to-head with the nation’s largest, most prestigious college programs, many of which muster much greater resources.
Douglas, who came to Temple after a decade on the faculty at the New England and Boston conservatories, prides himself on selecting operas that bring out the best in all his students.
“One of the most difficult tasks I have is picking repertoire that offers appropriate opportunities for a wide range of student levels of ability and experience,” Douglas said. “Some students have never done an opera before, and some master’s students are working on their fourth and fifth opera. They all need an education; they all need to progress.”
Unlike most college companies, Temple Opera Theater engages students in all aspects of production, from building sets to sewing costumes. Even the program’s music staff is composed entirely of students, unique among high-level opera programs.
“My goal is to produce well-rounded graduates capable of more than just singing arias,” Douglas said. “I want to produce graduates who can start an opera program.”
To keep his teaching fresh, vital and well-informed, Douglas maintains an active professional career outside Temple as a conductor, music director, chorus master and accompanist. A renowned expert in diction, he is also sought nationwide for master classes at colleges and singing conventions. He has been director of the apprentice program, chorus master and head of music staff at the Lake George Opera since 2003.
Previously, he spent seven seasons with the Chautauqua Opera in New York, was the assistant conductor of the Central City Opera in Colorado, the music director of the Ash Lawn-Highland Summer Opera Festival in Virginia and the artistic director of the Merrimack Lyric Opera in Massachusetts.
“Although I enjoy my professional work, I think my creativity is more stimulated by my work at Temple,” Douglas said. “I get a special pleasure from finding unique solutions to the types of challenges our young singers present, and being a part of their early successes — successes I know they will remember the rest of their lives.”
- By Hillel J. Hoffmann