OUR FOUNDERS

OYO Founders Rebecca Comerford & Julija Zonic                                                                                                                                          photo by Mariana Schulz                                                                                                                       

OYO Founders Rebecca Comerford & Julija Zonic                                                                                                                                          photo by Mariana Schulz                                                                                                                       

Ojai Youth Opera, the first stand-alone Youth Opera Company in the United States, was formed in 2012 by lyric Mezzo Soprano, Rebecca Comerford. A recent transplant to the Ojai Valley from New York City, Rebecca made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2010 in Verdi's Rigoletto under the baton of Metropolitan Opera conductor Steven Crawford and has sung professionally in venues such as Avery Fischer Hall Lincoln Center, the Wiener Staatsoper, The Alhambra Spain, Orpheum Theater Memphis, Tanglewood Music Festival, The Getty Center and for various film scores and chamber music collaborations.

Rebecca was interested in bringing the model of Children's Opera Outreach to her new community after spending many years as a outreach performer with the Metropolitan Opera Guild, Opera Memphis, Eastman Opera Theater and as a co-founder of City Youth Opera Camp, a summer Opera intensive held at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music where she matched colleagues from the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera alongside aspiring young singers ages 7-18 years of age to co-create children's opera performances.

"Opera is a living art form. It is vital, it is fun, it is transformative and it is necessary. I am constantly made aware of this every time I see our young artists share their hearts and souls with the world. As the director of OYO, I aim to pass down the torch of this great tradition while continuing to leave room for it to grow and expand in the minds of our children".  ~ Rebecca Comerford

Shortly after arriving in Ojai, Rebecca made the acquaintance of local singer/songwriter and Opera aficionado Smitty West.

Smitty web.jpg
 Having seen how the art form of opera can be transformational for both audiences and participants, I am so pleased to be able to participate in this community-centered, novel approach to opera…using the best of us…our youth…as a vehicle to bring beauty and love into our world. ~ Smitty West

With Smitty's enthusiasm and support, Rebecca was introduced to the music community of Ojai and the seed for a Children's Opera Camp was planted. A few months later, Rebecca met Croatian Soprano Julija Zonic. A beloved music educator and performer in the Ojai Valley, Julija's primary vocal training was in Opera and the two friends found an instant rapport and common bond as both singers and educators.

"Once the seed of opera is planted it never leaves you. It stays with you even when you don't give it all of your attention, it stays with you through trials and tribulations, it stays with you as a mark that at some point you did something amazing and worthwhile-- something that is not musical instant Ramen noodles, but filling, slow- cooked musical masterpieces with intricate ingredients. All that on a subconscious level so a  kid who experienced opera knows and feels proud of itheir effort. With carefully calibrated challenges they all rise to their best. " ~ Juilja Zonic

Both women felt that Ojai was the perfect community and destination to build the dream of a Children's Opera Theater that could serve as a cultural institution for Opera lovers both young and old throughout the west coast and beyond to the international community.

Since 2012, Ojai Youth Opera has conducted Opera Camps in Italian, German, and Modern English. Our students have gone on to pursue vocal performance at the college conservatory level, have been cast in supporting roles with regional Opera companies in the United States, have won major scholarships and competitions for singing and continue to amaze us with their craft and dedication.

We have had the distinct honor to have an amazing collaborative piano staff from UCSB, Music Academy of the West, Thacher School, Westmont College and Opera Guest Artists from New York City Opera and the Tanglewood Music Center.

In addition to our summer Opera Camps, Ojai Youth Opera will be commissioning and performing new works by living composers that are designed for young voices and will be holding workshops and seminars throughout the year.

We are here, together, to keep the torch of opera burning bright for present and future generations.

Yours in song,

Rebecca, Julija and Smitty