Accepted in May to a summer program beginning in June, Villarreal, a senior vocal performance major, had much less time than the other 40 participants to raise support and memorize the required six roles and accompanying music. "It was intense," Villarreal says.

The Opera Academy of California was founded to educate new audiences about opera, and to give promising young singers an opportunity to polish their craft.The summer program, "It's all about performance," lasted from June 12to July 28 and included fully staged productions of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Cavalli's Il Giasone and a double bill of the first scene of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (in Russian) and Daphnis et Chloe by Offenbach.More about the academy at

Originally from Dinuba, CA, Villarreal graduated from Dinuba High School in 2007 and attended College of the Sequoias before transferring to FPU. He appreciates the personal attention at Fresno Pacific. "The program at FPU…offers many great opportunities and the teaching is fantastic," says Villarreal, who works closely with Deborah Sauer-Ferrand, D.M.A. candidate, associate professor of music and vocal music coordinator. "He's worked really hard, I've been very pleased by the way he's applied himself," she says.

Sauer-Ferrand played a starring role in connecting Villarreal to the OAC, recommending him to Helene Joseph-Weil, professor emerita in voice and opera at California State University, Fresno. Villarreal applied by sending a YouTube video of his performance at the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition at California State University, Stanislaus.

Once he was accepted, others stepped up to help Villarreal, such as The Dinuba Rotary Club, The Kiwanis Club, Warren and Berg Manufacturing and friends and family. "I'm really lucky and blessed to have had them sponsor me," he says. "Everyone knows how far I've come."

At the academy progressed further on his path to being a performer, Villarreal grew a lot among students from prestigious schools and top voice teachers, conductors, stage directors and accompanists. The person who helped the most was David Cox, stage director, who taught Villarreal to better communicate with the audience. "I worked on developing more of stage presence and better portrayal of character," Villarreal says.

After graduating in May, Villarreal plans to pursue a master's degree, then embark on an opera career. Ultimately he would like to teach at a university or conservatory. For his success so far, he is grateful. "It was a God thing. Everything fell into place," he says.


Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations