Friends of Opera completes funding for Bybee endowment

Ariel Bybee
Ariel Bybee

A recent contribution by the UNL Friends of Opera group to the University of Nebraska Foundation has completed funding for the $200,000 Ariel Bybee Visiting Professorship Endowed Fund.

The Ariel Bybee Visiting Professorship Endowed Fund will sponsor visiting opera composers, opera directors and opera coaches to come to UNL from across the country and around the world as Ariel Bybee Visiting Professors.

"The Bybee Visiting Professorship fund provides the resources for us to do some pretty exciting things. I particularly like the flexible nature of the fund, since every opera has its individual set of demands," said William Shomos, Hixson-Lied Professor of Voice and director of opera in the School of Music. "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."

But Shomos said many other possibilities exist for the fund.

"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," Shomos said. "The possibilities are endless as they are thrilling."

The gift of the endowment also supports the NU Foundation's fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, and its priority to increase available academic program support.

The Friends of Opera sponsored a fundraiser on Feb. 15 at the Lied Commons, 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 UNL voice and opera professor.

"Friends of Opera blossomed and thrived in no small part due to founding member Ariel Bybee's commitment to quality opera at UNL," said John W. Richmond, director of the School of Music.

When Bybee announced her retirement in 2008, her friends — especially the Friends of Opera —created an endowment at the University of Nebraska Foundation in her honor. Their contributions would recognize her many musical and pedagogical 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," co-directed by Bybee and Ford.

Richmond said it was appropriate that Friends of Opera helped complete 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."

— Kathe Andersen, Fine and Performing Arts