Drama-free Drama at Southern Mississippi

Southern Miss Opera and Musical Theatre Company, The Phantom of the Opera

It’s exciting to hear about university programs who are coming up with new ways to work together and be supportive of the arts. Mike Lopinto and Michael Miles shared with CS Music how the University of Southern Mississippi makes their unique approach to supporting both opera and musical theatre successful. If you have program you think CS Music would be interested in spotlighting, email our online magazine editor, Mary Taylor at mary@csmusic.net.

  • Tell us about the vocal program at your school.

Miles: The vocal program at Southern Miss a comprehensive program that offers degrees from the Bachelors degree through the doctorate.  Our vocalists have the opportunity to sing in opera and musical theater productions every semester, and every vocal student has the potential to be cast in at least one production every year as part of the Southern Opera and Musical Theatre Company.  There are also scenes programs offered annually with opportunities for student leadership in the technical and directing aspects of the production. 

  • What makes your program unique?

Miles: I think our program is unique in that it equally supports both opera and musical theater, and that our students participate in both genres equally (and this is without having a degree in either opera or musical theater currently!). The university administration has consistently supported our program in making professional level productions financially viable. 

Lopinto: Further, a supportive faculty and staff, coupled with a community that boasts many alumni who have made Hattiesburg their home, give back in many professional-level theatrical capacities.

  • How has the program been successful?

Miles: We are here to provide opportunities for our students to learn the skills to make them competitive in the musical marketplace.  The only measurement of success is the seeing our students gainfully employed in opera houses, theaters, concert halls, cruise ships, theme parks and colleges and schools across the country and around the world.  Our alumni touch every corner of the globe in professional musical theater and opera productions, and many of them are being cast in roles in BOTH genres. 

Lopinto: Most recently, our production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera was named co-winner of the American Prize in Musical Theatre. The other co-winner, The Hub City Players for the regional premier of Pasek and Paul’s James and the Giant Peach at FestivalSouth, was our local, professional company that hires many of our students from intern to paid roles and is operated by alums of the university.

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  • What do you see as some of the biggest challenges for singers in your program? And what are you doing to help them overcome those challenges?

Miles: The singers in our program get the very best in vocal instruction and ample opportunities to participate in stage productions.  It is a challenge to find adequate instructional time to the other elements of stage productions, dance, acting, etc. 

Lopinto: We want to ensure that all of our singers have ample opportunities for growth in all the elements of staged productions and are prepared to meet the challenges of a performing career in the 21st century marketplace.

  • What about singing makes you most excited for your students as they pursue their degrees?  

Miles: What I enjoy most about teaching is watching students grow.  When you can watch a freshman who can barely make it through an audition grow into a solo lead in an opera or musical it is incredibly rewarding.  The same is true for their growth as an actor on stage.  

Lopinto: We challenge our students to dig deep into the meaning of every word they say or sing and scrutinize every character choice they make. Through that process we can see palpable growth over the years that they are in the program and build the tools that help them face and overcome challenges as professional musicians.

  • What goals does your program have and where do you see it heading?

Miles and Lopinto agree: Our goals have always been the same: to provide every student in our program with the opportunity to be on stage in some capacity, to provide those opportunities in a professional setting with professional level outcomes, and to teach students the skills necessary for them to be competitive in the musical marketplace.  

  • Tell us about the team of Mike Lopinto and Mike Miles. What is the most challenging part of being a part of a successful team like this? What is the best part?

Miles: Mike and I are very different people with very different personalities.  Most people wouldn’t think we could work together as a creative team. The best part of working together is the professional trust we have in each other and the personal bond that has come from our experiences.  We both know that whatever the other is doing will be of the highest quality, and I think we inspire each other to do more and do it better. The upward spiral of creativity in the production process is truly inspirational.

Lopinto: Michael and I don’t always see eye to eye, but we each know that the other have the students in mind first and the production second. We find common ground in creating and demanding excellence. That’s never easy, but with both my responsibilities at Southern Miss, FestivalSouth, and The Hub City Players, we try to create a safe space for artistry to occur and live by the motto, “Drama free drama” as much as possible.


CS Music Staff

CS Music is THE community for singers, teachers, and pianists. CS began in 1986 with the first issue of The New York Opera Newsletter and later to the award-winning magazine Classical Singer. Since 2003 CS has expanded to included articles, audition listings, and events for both classical and musical theatre singers worldwide! Free online articles and listings are available at www.csmusic.net.