Utah Opera adopts West High School

As part of its parent organization’s commitment to supporting youth engagement in the arts, Utah Opera has “adopted” West High School Fine Arts for the 2019-20 season and school year.

The “adoption” includes mentoring opportunities by Utah Opera in-house artisans and crafts people, and rare access for high school arts students in the processes behind creating professional opera productions, from observing rehearsals to learning marketing savvy.

West High Theatre Company/Opera Club Attends La traviata Opera-tunities Night

All drama classes and stage crew class (pictured) take PS tours during class


“Our goal is to raise a broad awareness that Utah Opera is incredibly active in providing music education programs for students in our statewide community,” said Utah Symphony | Utah Opera Education and Community Outreach Director Paula Fowler. “Utah Opera Resident Artists provide live, professional opera experiences to students in 150-175 Utah schools every year, and we are dedicated to serving all of the school districts across the state on a regular rotation. Our collaboration with West High School this season involves our entire opera staff and helps us provide a deep and multi-layered experience for the performing arts students at one school. We are thrilled to be able to provide this for West High.”

This unique project will draw attention to the Utah Opera’s devotion to music education. Supported in part by legislative funding, Utah Opera Resident Artists performed 163 programs for elementary and high school students across Utah last year; nearly 63,000 Utah students in 2018-19 were able to hear the Utah Opera Resident Artists live in their schools. The organization also provides access for students to the final dress rehearsal for each main-stage opera, and features programs for special population audiences including a night at the opera for visually impaired audiences, and access for families affected by autism.

West High Wizard of Oz program-makers consult with Utah Opera’s Marketing team

West set builders for Wizard of Oz consult with Jared Porter, Utah Opera Senior Technical Director

Wizard of Oz & Shakespeare competition costumers consult with Costume Director Verona Green



“The West High theatre students have had so many opportunities already this year! They have toured the rehearsal and storage space, workshopped with the Technical Director, Head Costumer, and Publicity,” said West High drama teacher Stacey Hutchings, who is overseeing the program implementation at the school. “Some of the students had never experienced opera or live theatre, and they were able to attend a performance of La traviata…The experiences and opportunities that these students are participating in are once in a lifetime!”

Rehearsal performance of Dorothy addressing the Oz head (green topiary head from Utah Opera’s production of Abduction from the Seraglio) which the tech students wired to flash whenever the Wizard’s voice was amplified.

Utah Opera’s Director of Education Paula Fowler, Chorusmaster Michaella Calzaretta, and Principal Coach and Pianist Carol Anderson attending the final performance of the musical which ran November 20-23, 2019.

During the program, West High students had the opportunity to consult with Senior Technical Director Jared Porter, Principal Coach and Pianist Carol Anderson, and Costume Director Verona Green for their input on the school production of “Wizard of Oz” in November. The high school music club choral arm was visited by Utah Opera Chorusmaster Michaella Calzaretta for several of their “Wizard of Oz” chorus rehearsals, where she taught different warmup exercises and gave suggestions to enhance their musical education, diction, and performance expressiveness.

Utah Opera Chorusmaster Michaella Calzaretta coaches the girls’ chorus for West’s Wizard of Oz

Crew students get their own nights to observe backstage action during a performance of La traviata

Utah Opera Principal Coach Carol Anderson coaches the Tinman, from West’s Wizard of Oz.

“Paula and Michaella have been a joy to partner with in this “musical” endeavor! Michaella has brought to the chorus a fresh pedagogical perspective that has inspired us to sing with a new level of excitement and articulation,” said West High choral director Melinda Benson. “I have especially appreciated Paula’s willingness and Michaella’s hands on involvement to reach out to us to have Utah Opera artists join our A’cappella members in song for our own special concert on March 17th at West High. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your beautiful partnership!”. (The March 17 performance was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.) 

West High School’s stage crew participates in lightwalking on the stage of Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre for Utah Opera’s production of Silent Night.

Craig Irvin finishes up a performance of the aria “No piu andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro, with West High student Joffrey Ma’alona stepping into the role of Cherubino.

In January, during Utah Opera’s production of Silent Night:

  • Drama students had the opportunity to attend the Wednesday night performance.
  • West High’s stage crew had the opportunity to participate in lightwalking, received a partial tour of backstage, and spent time with some of their professional counterparts backstage.
  • Baritone Craig Irvin from the cast made presentations in two West High choral classes.
  • Several students had the chance to sit backstage on headset during performances and shadow the stage manager.

Utah Opera Chorusmaster Michaella Calzaretta rehearsing the West High A Cappella Choir. The Utah Opera Chorus and West High ACC were scheduled to perform a side-by-side part of the school choir’s fundraising concert on March 17.

The West High drama teacher, Stacey Hutchings, and two of her students participated as supernumeraries with spotlighted moments with Figaro during his opening aria during the room run of “The Barber of Seville”.

Technical high school students had the opportunity throughout the season to sit backstage to listen to all the stage manager calls during the opera performances and watch the action behind the curtain. One student who observed all the backstage action during “La traviata” wrote, “There’s no better place to learn and grow than in a professional technical environment. Thank you so much for this unparalleled opportunity.”

During Utah Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville, West High School drama teacher Stacey Hutchings and two students participated as supernumeraries (“extras”) through the rehearsal period. The production was canceled on March 12, a few hours before the final dress rehearsal was to begin, when Salt Lake County Arts closed all the theatres because of the pandemic crisis.

Photo: Dana Sohm

Photo: Dana Sohm

Photo: Dana Sohm

It was incredible to watch and learn from people who know their craft so well. As someone who wants to be in the professional theatre world this was a wonderful experience! Everyone was so generous with their knowledge and time. I loved every minute of it!

-Kjersten Danzig, student supernumerary

I was excited to get to take part in a professional production. It was really interesting to see the similarities between opera and regular plays, and what goes on behind the scenes.

-Julia Rzepecka, student supernumerary

I had such a wonderful time working as one of the flamenco dancers in the production. It was a really fun experience, getting to see how things work behind the scenes, getting to know everyone, and getting close to my fellow supers. I loved the environment that everyone created, everyone was very kind and nice to be around. I would absolutely do another production with Utah Opera again.

-Xendria Childs Hutchings, student supernumerary

I was incredibly excited to work on the production of The Barber of Seville as the Duchess of Alba. The camaraderie that was quickly formed within the Supers and leads of the show was so welcoming and enjoyable. It was wonderful to watch the performers and management work with my students and be so accommodating to our unique situation.

-Stacey Hutchings, drama teacher


We look forward to exploring ways to continue our adoption project after the crisis has passed.