High art is a strange and unfamiliar world for many – only admired by stuffy, old-fashioned types whose works in music and theater often defy comprehension. For Stephanie DePrez, opera is a timeless and inspirational form of expression.
“Opera is a very particular beast, especially opera in America,” DePrez said. “It is a very specific skill that people train for decades to get just right and if you know what you’re looking for it can be stunning.”
DePrez, a former high school drama teacher and graduate student pursuing her master of music degree in voice, grew up listening to the majesty and power of opera. Now she hopes to enter the world of professional opera by honing her vocal skills at UCLA and gaining further experience crafting artistic stories as the musical director for “I Love You Because.” The contemporary pop musical inspired by Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” opened in Burbank, California, on Friday.
As musical director of “I Love You Because,” DePrez helps craft the tone and vision for the musical, coach the actors with their singing and is responsible for hiring and directing musicians.
Gathering the production team was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, said Carol Becker, director of “I Love You Because.” The musical’s production staff had taken care of all the other departments but needed the leadership of a musical director, said Emily Mae Heller, a producer for “I Love You Because.”
Producer Betsi Freeman had seen DePrez conduct St. Timothy’s church choir in LA and knew that she was vigilant in getting all the details right and had the technical experience .
Becker knew from her first meeting with DePrez that her knowledge and passion would be a powerful addition.
“Stephanie is a talented, ferocious music director with experience that people twice her age don’t have,” Becker said. “The music is not easy, but she works until the cast is comfortable with the music.”
Heller said the show is a mixture of comedic uptempo songs and the heartbreaking melodies essential to every love story. She described the play’s musical style as classic musical theater with a lot of jazz influence.
“Stephanie is the guiding hand with the music,” Heller said. “(She helps) lead the band and cast in creating the musical story and the right atmosphere for each song.”
Despite her passion as a former high school drama teacher in Palm Desert, California DePrez felt that she was not pursuing her dreams and living up to her potential when it came to her own performance career.
She moved to Los Angeles and works as the choir director of a local church and a tour guide at Universal Studios. DePrez’s vocal coach encouraged her to audition for graduate student programs in vocal performance.
The only thing she had to lose was the application fee when she applied to UCLA, DePrez said. She applied in December 2015 and auditioned in February, performing 25 minutes of music from four different centuries in English, French, Italian and German.
DePrez said she is excited to play the role of student rather than instructor for a change.
“As a teacher going back to school it’s like sinking into a warm bubble bath,” DePrez said. “I don’t have to worry about anyone else, I don’t have to grade anyone’s papers, all I have to do is worry about myself.”
DePrez plans to spend the next two years devoted to her studies and advancing her musical career. Along with vocal performance, she plans to study choral conducting to help improve on her directing skills for future shows.
“A lot of my life is learning the opera that I’m going to be doing in February with UCLA,” DePrez said. “The other half of my brain gets to hang out with people and work on a play that is fun, accessible, beautiful, emotional and really funny. That’s why ‘I Love You Because’ is such a pleasing project to do.”