Get a new job. Get a new place to live. Get ready to produce two operas in three months.

Bonnie Pomfret (bottom right) goes over the details for upcoming operas with her students during a recent rehearsal. Pomfret, a veteran opera performer and director, joined UAB’s Department of Music in August and will have had just three months to prepare two operas for performance in the ASC Sirote Theater Nov. 3 and Nov. 5.

Pressure? What pressure? 

Bonnie Pomfret, D.M., a versatile soprano and veteran opera performer and director, joined UAB’s Department of Music in August with an eye toward Nov. 3 and Nov. 5. Those are the dates her first operas on campus, “Il Tabarro” by Puccini and “Trouble in Tahiti” by Leonard Bernstein, will debut before live audiences in the Alys Stephens Center Sirote Theater.

“We are doing this on a pretty tight timeline,” Pomfret says, laughing. But don’t worry about her having stage fright: Thanks to directing numerous operas in her positions with Illinois State and Emory universities, she knows what it takes to make the two one-act operas successful. The uniqueness of her situation at UAB, however, can’t be ignored.

Because she didn’t become a part of UAB until August, Pomfret wasn’t able to conduct business as she usually would. Auditions that would have taken place in the spring didn’t happen until August. The choice of material to perform — “One of the most difficult parts of my job,” Pomfret says — couldn’t happen until she held the auditions and heard the voices she had. Then, she had to lean on her fellow faculty for information on the strengths of her students.

“The faculty here were very helpful,” Pomfret says. “I didn’t know how many of each voice type I had among the students or what skill level they had. You want to do something challenging and interesting for the kids, but your choices are limited when you just don’t know the strengths of your students.”
Pomfret has the experience to find those strengths, however.

“Due to the resignation of a wonderful director of opera, John Ray, the department found itself searching for someone with expertise in studio voice and also expertise and experience in directing operas,” explains Jeff W. Reynolds, D.M.A., chair of the Music department and conductor and musical director of the operas. “In that search, Dr.  Pomfret, rose to the top, and in a relatively short amount of time was charged with the task of assembling the many, many facets to produce the operas.

“The students are very excited about the two operas we have chosen,” Reynolds continues. “And in the true tradition of the theater they have risen to the occasion —quickly auditioning and memorizing their parts and doing whatever it takes to ensure the show goes on.”

Veteran director, performer
Pomfret spent a little more than 18 months on a Rotary Fellowship in Berlin,?going to operas three nights a week while taking graduate courses at the conservatory there. Later, while completing her doctorate at Indiana University, she?studied stage directing, learned to schedule and run rehearsals, worked backstage, assisted directors and performed numerous other tasks that translate to her job today.

As a soloist, Pomfret has performed music from the 12th to the 21st centuries in seven languages to rave reviews in America, Germany, France, Finland, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Hungary, Spain and China.  She still performs oratorio, chamber music and solo recitals, which coordinate well with a teaching schedule, and her first CD, “De Toda La Eternidad: Songs of American Women Composers,” was released

in 2005. Pomfret says she loves opera for the same reason any musician loves music.  “We all have the stage bug,” she says. “We love to perform. And I’ve been very fortunate to be employed full time doing something I’ve loved my whole life.”

Love stories
About 20 students will be involved in the two UAB operas, which Pomfret says have some of the same themes, but are very different. “Both are very difficult works,” she says. “Puccini is traditional, melodic, blood-and-guts opera. The Bernstein is an interesting blend of typical opera music and a much more contemporary style.”

Pomfret is kicking around a publicity line for the operas, both of which are love stories. “Il Tabarro” takes place on a barge and “Trouble in Tahiti” is set in the suburbs.  “I’m thinking about ‘Love on a Barge and Love in the Burbs: Two Desperate Housewives,’ ” Pomfret says, laughing, again.