Hear from these Ravens — two alumni, three fine arts faculty and a parent — as they reflect on opera, Ravenscroft and the impact the school’s performing arts presence makes on the arts community around us.
As part of the company’s triumphant return for the 2021-22 season, the North Carolina Opera brought “La Bohème,” the beloved story of young love and loss in Paris, back to the Triangle for the first time in eight years. When the curtains opened and the music began, there were six Ravens — two alumni, three fine arts faculty and a parent — performing in the production.
We asked each of them to share with us their roles in the production and to reflect on the impact Ravenscroft performing arts makes on the vibrant arts community around us. Here’s what they had to say.
Members of the Chorus: Mary Royall Hight, Jaclyn McGhee ’19 and Julia Swan Laird ’13
Mary Royall Hight, Ravenscroft Music Teacher, Drama Director and Private Lessons Instructor (voice)
This is my fourth season and sixth production with North Carolina Opera. We are very lucky to have one of the best professional opera companies in the southeast right here in Raleigh! It’s such an honor to be hired to work with this professional opera company, as well as a joy to work with fellow Ravenscroft fine arts faculty Anne and Nate Leyland. They are both fabulous musicians and wonderful colleagues here at Ravenscroft.
There are very few people in this world that are blessed enough to spend their day AND their night job doing what they love, but I do. I also feel very, very lucky to have David McChesney as such a supportive Director of Fine Arts. He supports and encourages his faculty in all of their professional music endeavors, and for that, I feel very grateful that I can live out both of my dreams as an educator and a performer.
Jaclyn McGhee ’19 is a former voice student of mine from Ravenscroft. When I knew she would be attending High Point University a few years ago, I reached out to Dr. Scott Macleod there, and Jaclyn ended up becoming a student in his studio! As NC Opera’s Chorus Master, Scott always asks a few of his best undergraduates to be a part of our larger productions and, of course, Jaclyn was one of them! It was a full circle moment for me as an educator, and I am very proud of how far she has come!
Jaclyn McGhee ’19, Theatre Performance Major/Musical Theatre Minor at High Point University
This experience was incredible. I had never performed in a professional production before, not to mention an opera, and it was quite different from the high school and college productions I have done. The sense of community within the NC Opera company was a big highlight for me, and it was very refreshing to be working with a big group of people who are all so involved and in love with their craft. I think the most special part for me was at the end when I received my first-ever paycheck for performing. Getting paid to do what I love the most is all I have ever wanted, and it really solidified for me that I actually could have a future in performing.
I did know a couple of Ravens in the chorus! Mary Royall Hight was my voice teacher at Ravenscroft from eighth grade to 12th grade. She was the one who really taught me the skills that have carried me through to become an upper-level singer. She and I have kept in touch over the years, and she is for sure one of my most favorite people I have ever learned from. Being able to now work alongside her was a big full-circle moment for me and something I will cherish forever. Julia Laird ’13 is another Raven I worked with during my time at Ravenscroft! She was Glinda in the 2012 production of “The Wizard of Oz,” and I was a munchkin. Another full-circle moment!
Ravenscroft fine arts was such a fundamental part of my life and impacted me in so many different ways. It was very special to me to have the opportunity to work with some of these people again and reconnect.
Julia Swan Laird ’13, Freelance Opera Singer and Administrative Assistant in the Music Department at Meredith College
This was my first year as a member of the North Carolina Opera chorus. It is refreshing to be a part of an incredible company back home!
This experience was certainly unexpected. We knew it would be an incredible challenge to mount a fully-staged opera while omicron cases peaked in N.C. We had small wins every day — hugging each other on stage, dancing, smiling, singing (masked during rehearsals) — but we also faced difficulties in that almost every single rehearsal we were missing cast members due to positive tests and quarantines. Three snow weekends in a row also put a damper on rehearsals and left us all in a state of concern as to whether we would end up performing at all, but the opera prevailed! For me, my favorite part was opening night when I got to see the faces of my fellow castmates for the first time without masks on!
Another member of the chorus, Angela Santucci, was a voice teacher at Ravenscroft when I entered as a junior in 2011. She was always very encouraging of my passion for music and was a great role model for what I wanted to do when I grew up. During this run at NC Opera, we reminisced about the days when I was Glinda in “The Wizard of Oz”! Speaking of which, we had a fun revelation learning that Jaclyn was a “munchkin” friend of mine as a Lower Schooler in that same production! Mary Royall and I had connected when I worked as a substitute at Ravenscroft during the pandemic; I subbed for her music classes a few times, and we always enjoyed catching up!
To me, all of us coming together in this production really attests to the excellent fine arts program at Ravenscroft. It was such a joy to reconnect with these ladies and learn that it’s no coincidence we work for or attended a program that nurtured a love for music and performance. We all come from different backgrounds but definitely share a bond due to our connection to Ravenscroft!
Members of the Pit Orchestra: Anne Leyland, Nate Leyland and Marc Dinitz
Anne Leyland, Professional Violinist and Ravenscroft Private Lessons Instructor and Artist in Residence
Like my husband, Nate, I have been a member of the NC Opera for 15-plus years. Performing opera is one of my passions, and I look forward to each of our productions. After the two-year hiatus in performances, it was especially exciting to be back in the pit. To know I was sharing the experience with other performers from the Ravens family made the moment even sweeter!
I have always appreciated the Ravenscroft Fine Arts Department’s vision to promote arts in the local community by cultivating instructors who are active performers. For many years before joining the staff here, I routinely performed all across the state and beyond with Ravenscroft faculty members, both past and presently employed. The best example I can be for my students outside my studio is that of an active performer in the community as well as on campus.
Nate Leyland, Professional Cellist and Ravenscroft Private Lessons Instructor
It is always exciting to be in the pit for NC Opera. I have been Principal Cellist in the orchestra for 12 years and played with NC Opera for more than 15 years. Every production brings lots of excitement and energy! Knowing that we were working with fellow Ravenscroft colleagues, students and parents only makes the experience that much more rewarding.
There is so much talent and skill in the Fine Arts Department here at Ravenscroft, it is no surprise to see so many involved in the local arts community. As a professional cellist, I have had an opportunity to perform and work in many communities around our state, country and internationally. What makes our community here at Ravenscroft so special and inspirational is the commitment to providing an exposure and a platform for our students to the Fine Arts.
Marc Dinitz, Professional Percussionist, Director of Marketing for The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and Ravenscroft parent
It is wonderful to know that Ravenscroft can have such an impact on the arts in our community and contribute in a meaningful way, especially at such a high level as this performance demonstrated.
As a professional musician, I am obviously a proponent of the skills a fine arts program can instill in not just future musicians, but all students. Having Ravenscroft fine arts instructors and alumni active in professional-level productions and concerts in the community can inspire the students and demonstrate the importance of music in all of our lives and its role in our community. Ravenscroft students are lucky to have faculty members who can bring these professional musical experiences to their instruction in the fine arts program.
Performance photo is courtesy of Eric Waters Photography; Hight’s headshot is courtesy of Ashley Roberts Photography.