The University of North Florida music department was first introduced in 1972, and has since become one of the most recognized college music programs in the state.
In 2012, the department of music became just the fifth program to receive flagship status from the university. This status is awarded to programs at UNF renowned for their excellence in faculty accomplishments, potential to grant outstanding educational results for students and the power of such programs to provide various civic needs to the community.
The Music Flagship Program at UNF did not always have an opera ensemble in its music department, however. Thanks to the help of Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki, who received his doctorate in opera performance from the University of British Columbia, the UNF opera ensemble was founded in 2007.
Biernacki said he chose UNF over other offers because he felt the school had the best possibility for future growth, professional development, and of course, the climate and his love for the city of Jacksonville.
“I thought this was a place where you could really build a program,” Biernacki said. “At that time, UNF did not have an opera ensemble or opera program, so this was something we essentially had to start from scratch.”
From there, Biernacki became the Head of Applied Voice, established the opera ensemble, and the rest is history.
Since then, UNF’s opera ensemble has performed several famous operas such as Henry Purcell’s “Dido & Aeneas,” which was the first complete opera ever performed at UNF, and Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”
In fact, since its introduction, the opera ensemble has completed 13 full productions.
“It’s been a very productive last few years and we intend to continue to do so within the same speed and same momentum,” said Biernacki.
Biernacki has been a busy man since 2007. In addition to starting the program from the ground up, he also established the UNF Opera summer program in the Czech Republic, a program that gives students a chance to participate in an opera program at the European Music Academy in Teplice, Czech Republic.
“We really love our Czech Republic productions because they’re just so amazing,” said Biernacki. “We get to perform with a professional symphony orchestra in professional theaters. These productions have been especially enriching for students.”
While funding has not always been consistent with the opera program, Biernacki said UNF has always strongly supported them in all their endeavors.
“Support from the university has always been strong in terms of allowing us to do what we need to do and providing all the necessary resources. However in terms of actual funding, sometimes it has been very good and sometimes it has not,” said Biernacki.
What the program really needs is a consistent fan base to provide the program with steady funding. That way, the opera ensemble can more regularly perform productions, and produce bigger, more elaborate productions for the community.
UNF’s opera ensemble brings a unique form of entertainment to our city, and since Jacksonville lacks a professional opera company, the UNF program is the only way residents can see such a beautiful vocal art.
Biernacki and the opera ensemble have big plans for the upcoming year, and with the addition of a graduate program, Biernacki said bigger and better productions are in the near future.
Future productions include “Little Red Riding Hood” in the fall and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” March 6-9 in the Robinson Theater at UNF’s campus. More information can be found online at www.unf.edu/coas/music/Opera.