Moores professor builds world-class opera legacy
Moores School of Music’s Buck Ross is a small revolution in one body.
Thanks to his work over the past 28 years in creating a distinguished opera scene on campus, students now have access to world-class performances on and off the stage.
Ross not only directs opera productions but also teaches acting for opera and opera literature.
“We are doing a lot of teaching through practical experience of putting these operas out to the public,” Ross said.
Ross said that before the Moores Opera Center was founded, he thought the University was not doing enough for their regularly enrolled students, and the funding provided was mostly for the young artists that the Houston Grand Opera was bringing in.
“I thought it was a problem, so I dug my fat little feet in and said, ‘We are going to make some changes around here and start producing operas for the students who are enrolled in the University,’” he said.
Ross said the primary goal of the Moores Opera Center is to train students in the art of performing opera. The secondary goal is to provide performances for the general public. Each year, the center performs operas in multiple languages. This year, two operas are in Italian and two are in English.
“I’m a firm believer in opera in English, but I wouldn’t be providing them the proper training if they weren’t getting other experience in other languages,” he said.
Students are encouraged to study the languages in great depths, and it is commonplace for people to not speak the language that they are performing in.
“For example, my French and my German are nonexistent, but it doesn’t stop me from doing French and German operas,” Ross said.
Vocal performance doctoral candidate James Rodriguez has taken all three of Ross’ classes: acting for opera, opera history and opera ensemble.
Rodriguez said having Ross as a classroom instructor, director and acting coach for various opera productions has been a great honor.
“He is incredibly knowledgeable about opera and brings a wealth of experience to the classroom,” Rodriguez said. “He has truly mastered the art of directing and has a clear vision of what he wants from his productions, but is always open to suggestions from his students.”
Vocal performance graduate student Kyla Knox, who will receive her master’s degree in the spring, has taken Ross’ acting for opera and opera directing classes.
Knox said Ross is an inspiration to work hard and achieve her greatest potential as a performer.
“His passion for teaching young singers is unmistakable, and I am constantly surprised by the seemingly endless depth to his knowledge,” she said.
Nicole Woodward, a student in the performer’s certificate program, has also taken Ross’ classes and described Ross as a director and teacher who is focused on making opera an accessible art form.
“Buck is the captain of a well-oiled machine,” Woodward said. “He is incredibly attuned to the realities of the performing world. He knows what people want to see and what they are willing to pay money for.”
Ross began his studies with a double major in music and theater. Even though many people advised him that it was not a practical combination, he said he had always known that they were two things that he really liked.
He was a sophomore when a teacher pulled him aside and told him he was going to be a director. A few months later, the same teacher pulled him aside and told him that he was going to be an opera director.
“I didn’t have any reason not to believe him, but at the time, I didn’t know anything about opera — I had only seen one opera at the time — and as far as I knew, I hated opera,” Ross said.
During his graduate studies, Ross studied under H. Wesley Balk, one of the most reputable teaching actors to sing at that time. As a teaching assistant for Balk, Ross observed his teaching methods two hours per day, five days per week.
“He was a genius, and he was someone who was constantly experimenting,” Ross said.
Ross said Balk is a real pioneer and someone who is absolutely irreplaceable.
“Balk looked at the process in a way that no one else had at that point, and he looked at it in ways that, even now, very few people are able to articulate in quite the way he did. There was no one like him,” Ross said.
Ross said he likes being busy and that being a director is the perfect profession for someone who is interested in a lot of things.
“I like the fact that I get to do both — teaching and directing,” he said.