In the opera world, dramatic mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick is a force of nature. Over the span of decades, she has established herself as an opera sensation with a voice and vocal range of unparalleled size. Her repertoire is built of roles from some of opera’s most revered works, such as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida, Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma, and even as Jeibaba in Dvorák’s Rusalka.
Zajick has received worldwide acclaim, most notably as one of the most preeminent singers of Guiseppe Verdi’s operas. She has sung alongside the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Renée Fleming and has performed in the world’s most prominent opera houses, from the Metropolitan Opera, to the Royal Opera House, to La Scala.
But before all of that, Dolora Zajick received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I was a pre-med student in college,” she said. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a pianist, but it wasn’t possible for me to take lessons. So in high school, I decided to become a doctor. Then in college I was told I had a voice and that I could have a career. That’s when I changed degree programs.”
Now, 30 years after the debut at San Francisco Opera that launched her path to international operatic stardom, Zajick cultivates successful careers, both on and off the stage.
Recently, Zajick has tried her hand at composing sacred music. Her compositional debut was an opera scene, “Roads to Zion,” written as a part of a celebration commemorating the 500th year since the birth of Saint Teresa of Avila. The composition premiered in San Jose in August. The work is set to premiere internationally in Spain this spring.
“My composing career started and quickly took off,” she said. “It’s all been very strange.”
One of Zajick’s most impressive endeavors of recent years is her work as a teacher for the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, which Zajick established in 2006.
“We specialize in freaks of nature,” says Zajick. “I noticed a severe lack of new dramatic voices, which was surprising, now that there are more people on the planet than ever before. I found that there was a lack of proper training for these unusual voices, and I wanted to address it.”
The institute runs an intensive three-week summer program that gives those who are admitted to the institute the opportunity to work with renowned coaches and voice teachers, including Zajick, that provide all of the necessary tools to have a career in the demanding field of opera performance.
The program has been hosted by various universities, but this year will mark its first appearance at UNR. In return for the city hosting the event, the institute will offer classical singers in the community the opportunity to audit classes as well as a chance to work in a master class with Zajick.
“It’s nice to bring more classical music culture here,” Zajick said. “I think people miss having opera around.”
Although her work has taken her all over the world, to places like the United Kingdom, Italy and France, Zajick calls Reno home. For at least three months of the year, Zajick spends her time in the Biggest Little City with family—both hers and the scrub jays that frequent her yard.
“I made friends with one once,” she said. “I named him Mort and his wife was Ticia. He’d sit on my hand and sing to me, and we’d talk while I was in the kitchen.”