Bravo to UNL Friends of Opera for support of new professorship

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Leading opera professionals from around the world will be invited to UNL because of a newly funded visiting professorship.

Leading opera professionals from around the world will be invited to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln because of a newly funded visiting professorship.

A recent gift from the UNL Friends of Opera to the University of Nebraska Foundation has completed funding for the Ariel Bybee Visiting Professorship Endowed Fund. The endowed fund of more than $200,000 will provide annual resources to enable the School of Music to sponsor visiting opera composers, directors and coaches who will come to UNL from across the country and around the world.

“The Bybee Visiting Professorship fund provides the resources for us to do some pretty exciting things,” said William Shomos, Hixson-Lied professor of voice and director of opera. “I particularly like the flexible nature of the fund, since every opera has its individual set of demands. The most obvious choice would be to bring in a professional singer to perform a role that may be too advanced for college-aged students. It’s great to have an artist work side-by-side with our students, essentially teaching them along the way and providing a fine example of artistry and professionalism.”

Shomos said many other possibilities exist for the fund as well.

“For example, we may want to bring in guest stage directors with different areas of expertise than my own, in order to give our students a broader perspective; we may want to bring in a Mozart expert to coach students in Italian recitative; we may want to bring in an early music conductor or ensemble for a Baroque opera; or maybe we may even want a professional language coach to prepare an opera in Russian or Czech,” he said. “The possibilities are endless as they are thrilling.”

John Richmond, director of the School of Music, said it was appropriate that Friends of Opera completed the gift.

“It could not be more fitting that Friends of Opera is now going to be the contributor responsible for putting the endowment dollars ‘over the top,'” Richmond said. “The Bybee Visiting Professorship will create a transformational resource for opera education at UNL.”

The gift also supports the university’s fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, and its priority to increase available support for outstanding faculty.

The Friends of Opera sponsored a fundraising event on Feb. 15 where contributions pushed the Bybee Endowed Fund beyond its $200,000 target. Bybee and her husband, Jim Ford, were in attendance to help celebrate the occasion.

The Friends of Opera was established in 2000 to support and enhance the work of UNL Opera. The development of the organization was spearheaded by Bybee, a Metropolitan Opera veteran and voice and opera professor at UNL.

“Friends of Opera blossomed and thrived in no small part due to founding member Ariel Bybee’s commitment to quality opera at UNL,” Richmond said.

When Bybee announced her retirement in 2008, her friends—especially the Friends of Opera—initiated the endowment at the University of Nebraska Foundation in her honor. Their contributions seek to recognize her many musical and scholarly contributions to the progress of the School of Music and opera program at UNL.

A substantial lead gift came from James C. and Rhonda Seacrest, long-time friends of Bybee and Ford. The Seacrests made previous gifts to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the UNL Opera program, including 2002 and 2007 sponsorships to send UNL Opera productions to the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera in Waterford, Ireland, an international opera competition. At the 2007 Festival, UNL Opera took home six awards, including the Waterford International Trophy as the top overall production of the festival for “Most Happy Fella,” which was co-directed by Bybee and Ford.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for more than 75 years. In 2012 donors, through their gifts to the foundation, provided the university with $165 million for scholarships, medical and other research, academic programs, faculty and buildings. All foundation funds are donor designated. The foundation’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Nebraska, has raised more than $1.2 billion for the university and concludes in 2014. For more information, visit

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