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The Making of an Opera Star

Renowned Alumni Reflect on What Made Their CSUF Education Special
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When you walk down the hallways of Cal State Fullerton’s Clayes Performing Arts Center, expect to be greeted by a symphony of music: flutes, piano, voices raised in song …

Nestled among the practice rooms is the office of Mark Goodrich, professor of music, vocal area coordinator and one of the current music educators who continue CSUF’s legacy of helping talented singers develop into opera stars.

“The track record for professional classical singers who have studied at CSUF speaks for itself,” says baritone alumnus James ‘Marty’ Schaefer, who recently performed on stage in LA Opera’s “La Traviata” with fellow Titans Charles Castronovo, Omar Crook and Christopher Job. 

“Where Jane Paul built a wonderful program and recruited incredible talents like soprano Deborah Voigt and baritone Rodney Gilfrey, the program under Mark Goodrich carried on that tradition and has produced world class singers who have thriving careers,” adds Schaefer.  

“I was extremely lucky to have Mark Goodrich as my first formal voice teacher,” says tenor Charles Castronovo, who will be performing “La Boheme” in January with the Royal Opera in Covent Garden, London. “Besides his positivity and support, he always gave me an honest opinion about my voice and performing, that, now looking back, was probably one of the most valuable things he could have given me.” 

Creating a Supportive Atmosphere

Goodrich and fellow music educator Patricia Prunty, are in agreement: it’s all about creating a nurturing, supportive atmosphere.

That kind of atmosphere is “extremely important because our instrument is a part of us, our bodies,” explains Goodrich, a tenor with wide-ranging professional experiences he brings to the classroom. “What happens emotionally does affect our instruments.”

That’s what Omar Crook remembers of Goodrich — the warm, inviting, supportive comments that swayed him in deciding to go to CSUF. “I started late. I was 25 years old and my number one goal was getting the best training possible,” says the tenor, whose 25-year career has taken him from concert stages around the world to film and television and the recording studio. 

The voice, however, is only one aspect of being an opera singer, Goodrich stresses. “In order to succeed, the singers still must learn to read music and sing in the language of the composition, to learn the pace of the production, where to stand, to interpret the music and how to share it with the audience.”

Christopher Job

Christopher Job

“One thing that stands out to me is that from choral to operatic studies, the faculty are always teaching you the little things that add up to ‘how to be a professional,’” says Christopher Job, a bass-baritone who has performed with the L.A. Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and The Metropolitan Opera and been featured in six of the Met’s “Live in HD” broadcasts. “I often think about these things when I step into a rehearsal room or any professional situation.”

The Right Instructors 

“Part of our success is the quality of the people we bring in to work with our students,” says Prunty. “Not all places have the ability to offer stage directors, orchestral accompaniment, conductors and music directors who understand young voices and how to help them develop with an orchestra.”

“An important facet to the training is the relationship the singers have with the choral music program,” explains Schaefer, who also teaches at the university. “Through that relationship, our singers are better trained, prepared and more musically literate than you find in many other programs.”

“I was incredibly fortunate to be at CSUF when Rob Istad (2001 alumnus, professor of music and director of choral studies) came to get his master of music,” adds Job. “Our director was John Alexander and Rob was to study under him. I thank John for my musicianship every day, and I know that Dr. Istad is inspiring the next generation of singers as well.”

John Alexander (professor emeritus of music) kept me in the program,” Crook recalls. “I had never read a note of music and I was failing in piano. Then I got a call from Alexander and it lit a fire under me. I started private lessons to pass the class and stay in the program.” 

And Singers Must Sing 

Cal State Fullerton’s opera program offers undergraduates, as well as graduate students, the opportunity to perform major roles in campus productions, in addition to working with professional groups, singers and conductors. 

James Schaefer

James Schaefer

“Our choral groups are often asked to perform in concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pacific Symphony, Pacific Chorale and at the Hollywood Bowl, and the students get to work with huge stars in classical music like Andrea Boccelli, Kathleen Battle and John Williams,” adds Schaefer.

Students also get the opportunity to hear from those who came before. Earlier this year, Grammy nominated baritone and alumnus Jubilant Sykes returned to his alma mater to work with students. Fellow Titans Rodney Gilfry returned in 2018 to perform with the University Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus, and Deborah Voigt was a 2016 commencement speaker.

“The faculty gives you opportunities to fail and to shine. That’s very important,” stresses Crook. “The training students receive is beyond academic training. They teach you how to be in the real world.”

“I think the most rewarding part of my time there were voice lessons with Mark Goodrich. As a young student dreaming to be an opera singer, private voice lessons are where the real work happens,” Castronova says. “This is what I looked forward to the most each week. Mark gave me a great and secure foundation in my vocal technique that helped me and sustained me in my career for many years.” 

“I sing with so many other top notch singers,” says Schaefer, “and when they hear about my training and what students are offered at CSUF, many of them are just blown away by the expectation of excellence and the success our students have!”

To learn more about Cal State Fullerton’s various music programs, call 657-278-3511 or visit the School of Music website. Interested in doing more? Consider joining the Music Associates support group or contact Patricia Falzon, senior director of development,