STEVEN DAIGLE, artistic director, is professor of opera and head of the Eastman Opera Theatre program at The Eastman School of Music. He has served as part of the artistic staff for more than 300 lyric theater productions, along with calling over 400 professional operatic performances as a production stage manager. Daigle’s experience as a stage director encompasses over 150 titles and a wide range of lyric theater repertoire: Madama Butterfly, Our Town, Manon, Silk Stockings, Serse, Passion, La Traviata, Zip! Goes A Million, To Hell and Back, Il Trovatore, Don Giovanni, Oh, Lady! Lady!!, Carmen, La Rondine, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Norma, Dialogues of the Carmelites, Susannah, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Claudia Legare, La finta giardiniera, Il turco in Italia, Così fan tutte, Transformations, La bohème, Suor Angelica, The Tender Land, Porgy and Bess, L’elisir d’amore, and Pelléas et Mélisande, among others. Productions include collaborations with legendary Broadway composer Charles Strouse, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Robert Ward, Carlisle Floyd, Jake Heggie, Gene Shear, and conductors Louis Lane, Robert Spano, and Evan Whallon. Reviews and articles of Daigle’s work have been published in Opera News, Opera London, American Record Guide, Gramophone, Fanfare, Classical Singer, and Opera Now. As a champion of early American operetta and musical theater, he continues to pursue the preservation of the art form, and has received critical acclaim for his commitment to research, reconstruct, and produce neglected musicals of early Broadway.
With Ohio Light Opera, he served as stage manager, assistant director, and general manager under the guidance of company founder James Stuart, and in 1999 was appointed artistic director. His first year with the company was in 1990. At OLO he has called over 300 performances as a stage manager, served on the technical or artistic staff for over 150 productions, and directed over 80 titles, including many American premieres in original versions: Lehár’s Der Zarewitsch (The Zarevitch), Künneke’s Der Vetter aus Dingsda (The Cousin from Batavia), and Kálmán’s Der Zigeunerprimás (Sari), Ein Herbstmanöver (Autumn Maneuvers), Das Veilchen vom Montmartre (The Violet of Montmartre), Der gute Kamerad (A Soldier’s Promise), Marinka, Die Faschingsfee (Miss Springtime), and Der kleine König (The Little King). As artistic director, he has created five performance translations for Kálmán operettas, expanded OLO offerings to include traditional musicals (including those of Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Lerner and Loewe, and Rodgers and Hammerstein), and introduced over 50 new titles to the company’s vast and unique repertoire, including works of Benatzky and Stolz, Bock and Harnick, Friml, Leigh, Loesser, Schubert and Berté, Sousa, Styne and Sondheim, and Willson. Daigle has also supervised OLO’s highly acclaimed series of CD and DVD recordings on the Newport Classic, Operetta Archives, and Albany Records labels, including historical reconstructions and world-premiere recordings of Friml’s The Firefly, Romberg’s Maytime, Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, Sweethearts, and Dream City and the Magic Knight, Kern’s The Cabaret Girl, and six operettas of Emmerich Kálmán. The company’s unique mission and service to the traditional lyric art form (Viennese, French, and German operetta; Edwardian musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan; early American operetta and musical theater) has been recognized internationally through scholarly publications.
Steve served on the faculty of Kent State University, and as assistant director and acting director of the Opera Theater program at the Oberlin Conservatory. In the summer of 1998, he served on the faculty of the Oberlin in Italy program in Urbania, Italy. In September 2003, The Ohio Light Opera was given an Award of Achievement by Northern Ohio Live for its role in preserving operetta for the past 25 years. In the spring of 2006 he received the Outstanding Alumnus award from Southeastern Louisiana University. From 2009-13 he served as chair of the voice and opera department at the Eastman School of Music. Future directing engagements include Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a production that will include a collaboration with the composer.
In May of 2015, Steve received the Eisenhart Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester.
LAURA NEILLhas been the executive director of Ohio Light Opera (OLO) since 1998. Prior to that appointment, Ms. Neill was the Business and Box Office Manager. OLO is the Resident Professional Company of the College of Wooster, entering its 43rd summer season in 2022. OLO is a $1.3 million company that is both an educational component of the College of Wooster and an internationally renowned professional lyric theater company which produces a net $2 million economic impact on Wooster/Wayne County. Ms. Neill oversees the operations of The Ohio Light Opera, including budget, fundraising, grant acquisition, and personnel, and has overall responsibility for the daily operations of the company. She works closely with the artistic and music directors of the company and maintains a relationship with the Ohio Light Opera Board of Directors. Ms. Neill received her Bachelor of Arts from the College of Wooster, with a major in English. She has a Master of Arts from the University of Minnesota in Scandinavian Studies/Language and Literature.
JULIE WRIGHT COSTA, associate artistic director, is held in high regard as an interpreter and director of operetta, singing numerous leading roles, nationally. Julie is honored to celebrate her 27th season performing with the Ohio Light Opera and delighted to return to the Wooster community, her second home. With OLO, she has sung in over 100 productions, performed over 70 roles, and directed more than 20 of OLO’s season titles. This past year, she staged Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I for the Western Plains Opera Company and has been invited back to direct Il barbiere di Siviglia and Into the Woods. Performances include the role of Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore with Opera Louisiane and the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with the Salt Lake City Symphony. During OLO’s 40th festival season, Julie will direct Offenbach’s delightful La Périchole and brandish her magic wand as Queen of the Fairies in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. In charge of the casting process for OLO, Julie traveled to seven cities, auditioning over 300 singers from across the country throughout November and December. Career highlights include performances with the opera companies of Nevada, Chautauqua, Cleveland, Michigan, Carolina, and Utah, as well as performances with the symphonies of Charlotte, Illinois, Utah, and Detroit. Favorite performances include leading roles in productions of La bohème, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, The Turn of the Screw, Bitter Sweet, La Rondine, Countess Maritza, Giuditta, Camelot, Carousel, and the title role in Hello, Dolly! As a director, she has staged productions for the Moab Music Festival, Nevada Opera, Opera Southwest, The Eastman School of Music, The University of Utah, and The Ohio Light Opera, among others. She can be heard on compact disc recordings for the Newport Classic, Albany Records, and Operetta Archives labels. Julie resides in Salt Lake City with her husband, composer John Vasconcelos Costa, and their dachshunds, Freddie and Rose. She is a tenured professor of voice and voice area head at the University of Utah School of Music.
J. LYNN THOMPSON, music director, has a successful career that includes more than 40 years as conductor, artistic leader, recording artist, performer, and educator. This season is Thompson’s 29th with The Ohio Light Opera, for which he will have led over 1000 performances of more than 120 different productions, including two world premieres and several American premieres. Additionally, Thompson and OLO have recorded 18 full-length CDs on the Newport Classic and Albany Records labels. In 2007, Thompson was named Artistic Director Emeritus of Atlanta Lyric Theatre, a company he assisted in founding in 1980 and for which he has served as music director, conductor, and artistic director. He has collaborated with conductors Louis Lane and Robert Spano; singers Michael Hume, Peter Harrower, and Victoria Mallory; and pianist Paul Ford, accompanist for Stephen Sondheim for over 20 years. Composers Robert Wright and George Forrest consulted on Thompson’s 1998 production of Kismet in Atlanta, and he worked closely with the Kurt Weill Foundation in the remounting of the rarely performed The Firebrand of Florence with OLO in 1999. Thompson has served as principal guest conductor with Pensacola Opera and as guest conductor with the Akron Symphony, Theatre of the Stars in Atlanta, and the Empire State Orchestra in Schenectady. J. Lynn and his wife Adelia, along with their two golden retrievers, Buck and Maggie, currently reside in Newport News, VA, where, at Christopher Newport University, he serves as director for the University Orchestra and music director for Theatre CNU and Opera CNU. This season at OLO, Mr. Thompson conducts The Pajama Game, Fifty Million Frenchmen, Iolanthe, and the annual July 4th Pops concert.
STEVEN BYESS, associate music director, is celebrating his 20th season with OLO, where he has conducted over 75 productions and 21 audio and video recordings. He is renowned for his versatility, multi-faceted presence on the podium, passion for music education, and his devotion to promoting a lifelong love and enthusiasm for music and the arts. Equally adept with symphonic, opera, operetta, music theater, and ballet repertoire, Maestro Byess is also the music director of the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Oregon), the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, and the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra. He was formerly on the faculties of the Cleveland Institute of Music, the University of Michigan, the University of Denver, and California State University-Los Angeles. He studied conducting at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Louis Lane and Carl Topilow, with Charles Brück at the Pierre Monteux Memorial School for Conductors, and was an assistant conductor to Robert Shaw at the Shaw Institute in Souilliac, France. Mr. Byess has been a frequent conductor at the Pine Mountain Music Festival in Michigan, conducting productions of Le tragédie de Carmen (Bizet/Brook), a highly acclaimed production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide with the composer’s daughter Jamie Bernstein, and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. He conducted productions of Puccini’s La bohème and a critically acclaimed production of Robert Ward’s The Crucible at the International Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv, Bizet’s Carmen with Emerald City Opera (Colorado), and Copland’s The Tender Land and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore with Intermountain Opera (Montana). Byess also recently conducted Weill’s Street Scene and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at the Eastman School of Music, and led multiple performances with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Florida Orchestra. He is a conductor for the Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute Link Up orchestra education concerts, performing for over 70,000 children in multiple U.S. communities since 2013. A proud seasonal resident of Wooster, his daughter Julianna was a member of the OLO cast for several seasons before serving as the orchestra’s assistant concertmaster, and his daughter Avani was born in Wooster during the 2015 summer festival.