Jeff Weinberg’s love for opera started when he first heard it at his grandparents’ home in Chanute, Kan. Over time, Weinberg’s passion for the soaring vocal art form grew and eventually led him and his wife, Mary, to make a lead gift to support opera at the University of Kansas.
“From the time I was very young, a visit to Chanute meant opera playing in the background,” Weinberg said. “My grandfather, by quietly telling me the story behind what I was hearing, brought the beautiful music magically to life.”
Weinberg’s exposure to opera continued when he learned his junior high school principal in his hometown of Coffeyville, Kan., was also passionate about it. The principal would take a busload of students and their parents across the state line to see operas in Tulsa.
“That evening in Tulsa, at a performance of Carmen, was the beginning of a lifelong love of opera, an art form that has enhanced my life immeasurably,” he said.
The Weinbergs now live in Lawrence, where the KU Voice & Opera program in the School of Music feeds their appetite for the art, most notably through the performance and influence of University Distinguished Professor of Voice Joyce Castle. In her honor, the school is championing the Joyce Castle Campaign for KU Opera, with a goal to raise $250,000 for the Opera Endowment Fund that Castle established years ago. The Weinbergs provided the lead gift of $100,000 to raise the curtain on the campaign.
Castle, a mezzo-soprano, grew up in Baldwin City, Kan., and attended KU. She graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre-Voice, a major the school created just for her.
“That major makes a lot of sense when talking about voice and opera,” Castle said. “Because it blends singing and acting, which is what we do in opera. And I had such great training at KU.”
She joined the faculty at KU in 2001 and will retire at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. Castle’s storied career began in 1970 with her professional debut at the San Francisco Opera in the role of Siebel in Faust. She was a leading artist for 25 seasons with the New York City Opera and 14 seasons with the Metropolitan Opera. She’s performed across the U.S. and internationally, and still does performances to this day.
Castle’s experience, professionalism, talent and charm drew the Weinbergs into her circle as friends and admirers. Those qualities helped bolster the reputation of KU’s voice and opera program.
“Joyce’s background is exactly what you would hope to have to attract students and faculty,” Weinberg said. “As a mentor to students, she is thoughtful, patient and willing to listen.”
John Stephens, KU professor of voice, has performed with Castle, and knew what an asset she would be to the school.
“Performing with her was an event, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody with as much power and stage presence as Joyce,” Stephens said. “She’s quite wonderful and also the world’s greatest colleague. I knew she was such a fine singer, so I recruited her to join the KU faculty.”
Stephens said KU Opera is fortunate to co-produce an opera every other year with the Theatre Department, but acknowledges private funding makes more things possible. For opera, it could mean the ability to do more productions and improve props, costumes and lighting. Inviting singers and composers as guests would give students real-world instruction and insight. Students often need help with the travel and fees associated with in-person auditions and summer programs.
“Those experiences are so important, especially for students who are getting ready to graduate,” Castle said.
KU School of Music Dean Robert Walzel encourages everyone who loves music to consider a gift, not just to honor Castle, but to support exceptional music education in opera at KU.
“The Joyce Castle Campaign for Opera is critical not only for honoring one of KU’s most esteemed musical artists and advocates, but for ensuring the legacy of elite level music-making she and so many others have brought to KU,” Walzel said.
Stephens said, with Castle’s last year at KU coming up, the timing of the campaign is perfect.
“To celebrate her and her amazing career and how much she gives back to this university as a teacher and as an ambassador has been incredible,” Stephens said. “Everyone has the opportunity to contribute to that excellence.”
Add your voice
To be part of the Joyce Castle Campaign for KU Opera, contact Curtis Marsh at 785-832-7467 or make a gift at www.kuendowment.org/opera
View these select Joyce Castle performances
“All Bernstein — Remembering Lenny” with accompaniment by Mark Ferrell
University of Kansas, March 2018
“Statuesque” by Jake Heggie
University of Kansas, March 2017