College of Music students, faculty perform at Austria's Salzburg Festival

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Salzburg, Austria, is not only celebrated as the birthplace of Mozart, but is also considered one of today's most prestigious centers for summer musical activity. This year, the University of North Texas College of Music was well represented by two students and a faculty member in the musical life of this city.

"Perhaps no other summer program holds the cachet of the legendary Salzburg Festival," says UNT College of Music Dean James Scott.

Richard Croft of Denton, who joined the UNT faculty as professor of voice in 2004, was singing the lead role in the Salzburg Festival's production of Haydn's opera Armida. He earned rave reviews, including praise from the publication Salzburger Nachrichte. The publication noted that with his performance, Croft "again demonstrated that he is in a league of his own:"

"He is one of the most elegant tenors, extremely sure and well-balanced in all ranges," the publication wrote.

Another publication, Die Welt, commended Croft by saying that the "highest praise" should be given to him "with his wonderful blending of colors."

The big screen at the festival also showed Croft in Mozart's Mitridate, which he performed at the festival in 2006.

While working in Salzburg, Croft took time to meet with the two UNT students -- Augustine "Gus" Mercante and Juan Galván -- who were both studying there.

"I coach both Gus and Juan at UNT, and met with them between their busy rehearsal and lesson schedules in Salzburg," Croft says. "It was so nice to see both of them so excited to be in Salzburg and having such fun and doing so well, and I was delighted to be able to get them tickets for the opera."

In Salzburg, Croft says, young singers can "talk shop" with internationally acclaimed opera stars such as German countertenor Andreas Scholl, or receive coaching from other stars, such as American mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry, as Merchante did.

And in one day at the Salzburg Festival, opera students could catch a performance of Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff; see Mozart's opera Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), featuring German sopranos Diana Damrau and Dorothea Röschmann; and see Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin, featuring Swedish baritone Peter Mattei and Italian bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto.

"Salzburg is a remarkable place, and it was a valuable experience for these two talented students," Croft says.

Mercante, a UNT master's student and countertenor, performed this month at the Preisträgerkonzert 2007 (2007 Prize Winners Concert), co-sponsored by the Salzburg Festival. He recently returned from the Mozarteum in Salzburg, where he has been studying since July 16.

"It was also so cool to hear people buzzing about Richard, not only for the Armida, but for the broadcast on the big screen," Mercante says.

Galván, an undergraduate baritone at UNT, was studying in Salzburg in a program based at Salzburg College from July 14 through Aug. 15. He had won a full tuition scholarship there as a part of winning the top prize at the Crescendo Music Awards Competition in Tulsa, where his prize also included a cash award of $4,500.

During his study, Galván earned the honor of singing in the prestigious Preisträgerkonzert associated with his program. He says about 25 people auditioned to perform in the special concert at the Schloss Mirabell / Marmorsaal in Salzburg. He was one of four first-place winners chosen.

"This program put a lot of perspective on what is most important when it comes to German singing," Galván says. "I got a tremendous amount out of this program."

In addition to Mercante and Galván, another UNT student is in Austria -- but this time for more than a summer stint. Trombonist Jeremy Wilson, who was a first-year master's student at UNT in 2006-07, earned a position with the Vienna State Opera/Vienna Philharmonic. He will begin the job in September by playing first trombone in the Opera's performance of Bizet's Carmen.

Scott says the relationship between UNT faculty and students, such as Croft and his students, is remarkable.

"While it is of course immensely gratifying that we have a faculty member, a graduate student, and an undergraduate working so successfully in Salzburg, it is especially meaningful to observe the sense of UNT community and camaraderie among them," he says.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108