ASU School of Music graduating mezzo-soprano hopes to launch opera career

December 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Ariana Warren, a mezzo-soprano of exceptional talent, embodies everything that the ASU School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts expects from students — excellence, motivation, creativity and innovation. Warren will graduate in December with a Master of Music in opera performance. Ariana Warren Ariana Warren Download Full Image

Just weeks into her graduate degree program in opera performance, mezzo-soprano Warren was diagnosed with a major vocal injury.

“A few months prior to moving to Arizona to start my first semester of grad school, I began losing strength in my speaking and singing voice, but I assumed it was because I was stressed, working three jobs and had allergy symptoms,” Warren said.

After a visit to the Mayo Clinic, doctors discovered a large pseudocyst on her vocal fold that required surgery and months of vocal therapy and rest.

“Thankfully the surgery was a success and I was able to return to ASU to begin my graduate studies while finishing my vocal therapy,” she said.

Warren had to take a semester-long leave of absence, but she didn’t let that obstacle set her back. She is now one of the strongest singers in ASU’s Music Theatre and Opera program according to faculty in the School of Music.

She has sung numerous roles in mainstage operas at ASU, including Principessa in “Suor Angelica” and Arsamene in “Xerxes.” Warren sang the lead role of Dinah in the Student Lab production of “Trouble in Tahiti” and sang the world premieres of “Behold the Man,” creating the role of Cecilia, and Carmel Dean’s “Well Behaved Women” as Eleanor Roosevelt in the program’s New Works series.

Outside of ASU, Warren won the 2018 Encouragement Award at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Arizona District. In summer 2019, she made her debut in the title role of Carmen at Canto Vocal Programs in Louisville, Kentucky, coached by singers and vocal coaches from the Metropolitan Opera. Recently, she has been selected as a Young Artist at Glimmerglass Opera, one of the top summer opera festivals in the United States, where she will cover Maria in “Sound of Music” and Zerlina in “Don Giovanni,” and be an ArtSmart Mentor, teaching youth chorus members. In addition to her singing successes, she has been the student assistant in the Music Theatre and Opera’s office, planning outreach performances of the operas.

Warren received a dual Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance and music education from Ithaca College in 2016 and was an apprentice artist with Opera Ithaca in their 2016-17 season. She has attended Canto Vocal Programs, Opera Viva! in Verona, Italy, and The Wesley Balk Opera/Music Theater Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Warren has extensive dance training in tap, jazz, contemporary, ballet, lyrical and hip-hop which give her an elegant and commanding presence on stage.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (While you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: There wasn’t an “aha” moment for me. I grew up in a household filled with music. My mom is a retired opera singer, both of my parents are music teachers and my brother is a percussionist. We were always encouraged to explore all of our interests growing up but my heart always led me back to music. There was nothing else that sparked the same amount of joy that also gave me a creative outlet to express myself.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The process of learning and performing ASU’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” drastically changed my perspective of theatre, the arts and humanity. This was the largest performance that I have ever participated in with 300 people on stage — Music Theatre and Opera; ASU Symphony Orchestra; ASU Choral Ensembles; marching, blues and rock and roll bands; the Phoenix Boys Choir; and countless dancers and designers from the Herberger Institute. To perform “Mass” at this grand level at ASU Gammage was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was challenged every day as an artist and had the opportunity to create something unique and special with hundreds of artists.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I first heard of ASU from Brian DeMaris, artistic director of Music Theatre and Opera, who was a professor of mine as an undergraduate student at Ithaca College in New York. He invited me to apply to the ASU Winter Vocal Academy. Throughout that week, I was introduced to many of the wonderful faculty members of Music Theatre and Opera which put ASU at the top of my list for graduate school. In the collegiate music theatre world, MTO is a gem with world class teachers, talented students and one of the most supportive and creative work environments that I have ever been part of.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My voice teacher, Dr. Stephanie Weiss, was monumental in my ASU experience. She is brilliant in her craft and I have never seen a teacher go so above and beyond for each of her students. She pushed me to be the best I could be every day and she taught me to never settle for less. I learned that there is always room for improvement and if you practice and work hard good things WILL come. Her lessons have been invaluable.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: You must always come first. Nothing else matters if you are not happy and healthy, so do not be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people who want you to succeed and to become the best version of yourself. Be kind to yourself and one another.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The “cove” outside the School of Music building was my favorite place to take a study break, catch up with friends and to review music before a rehearsal. It was the perfect meet up spot and it is practically Grand Central Station for the music community!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be moving back home to New York after graduation. I am very excited that I will be attending The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York this summer. I am very thankful to the MTO and School of Music faculty for giving me the tools necessary to begin an opera career.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would put that money into the arts — half into public education music programs to create and support school music/theatre programs and the other half to small opera companies. Unfortunately school music/theatre programs are losing funding and opera companies are struggling to stay open. I believe that music is exactly what people need. Music teaches empathy and compassion and in many cases, including my own, people find themselves through music.

One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Karl Paulnack:

“If we were in medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at 2 a.m. someone is going to waltz into your emergency room, and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 p.m. someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.”

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


ASU scholars honored with lifetime titles as American Association of Geographers fellows

December 5, 2019

Whether it’s finding ways to make cities more livable, or studying how human activity impacts the natural world, geographic research at Arizona State University explores nearly every aspect of our lives. 

Next spring, the contributions of two scholars at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will be recognized with an induction into the American Association of Geographers (AAG) fellows.  Dean of social sciences at The College Elizabeth Wentz has pioneered the use ofGeographical Information Systems, remote sensing and space-time analysis to decipher urban environments and our place within them. Dean of social sciences at The College, Elizabeth Wentz has pioneered the use of geographical information systems, remote sensing and space-time analysis to decipher urban environments and our place within them. Download Full Image

The AAG announced 18 new fellows for its 2020 cohort in November, including Elizabeth Wentz, dean of social sciences at The College, and Billie Lee Turner, a Regents Professor and Gilbert F. White Professor of Environment and Society in The College’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. They are joined by Anne Chin, a doctoral alumna of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning who is now a geography and environmental sciences professor at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Established in 2018, the fellows program recognizes a handful of outstanding geography professionals from a pool of thousands of AAG members each year. Fellows are chosen for making significant advancements to the field through research, teaching and development and become lifetime appointees of the association’s advisory board. 

Technology as a building block 

From understanding river hydrology and climate change to mapping urban heat islands, technology has a broad impact on today’s geographical research. 

That’s a notion Wentz, also a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has pioneered throughout her career. Her research develops and uses tools like geographical information systems, remote sensing and space-time analysis to decipher urban environments and our place within them. She also tracks the design of new technologies and mentors graduate students through their own geographical research. 

“Geography is inherently interdisciplinary; it includes research on things from hydrology, climate and weather to human and social conditions,” she said. “Much of my work is technology-focused, but we are trained from very early on to be broad in our thinking. Rather than just teaching the software, I ask students to consider the larger goal that software is supporting.”

Thinking of the big picture is what led to Wentz’s latest project at ASU in 2018. Now a year old, the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience is a multipronged initiative that uses data-sharing and mapping tools to understand social systems and build resilience in Maricopa County. 

In addition to her work at the university, Wentz has advanced the field of geography nationwide, serving on the AAG National Council and as the former president of the University Consortium of Geographical Information Science, among others. 

Robin Leichenko, who serves as chair of the Department of Geography at Rutgers University and nominated Wentz for the AAG award, said Wentz stands out for her commitment to students and the field at large. 

“Libby was an obvious candidate because of her path-breaking contributions to GIS and remote sensor research, as well as her long track record in teaching and mentoring,” Leichenko said. “But what really distinguishes her is her leadership role in the discipline itself; I see her as someone who is taking on initiatives that are helping to increase the visibility of this field and the impact it has on the world.” 

Patrick Kenney, dean of The College, said the leadership of both scholars expands across ASU.

“Elizabeth Wentz and Billie Lee Turner are strong academic leaders whose dedication to advancing the field of geography is evident in both research and as guiding forces to a new generation of scientists in the classroom,” he said. “We at The College see this award as a reflection of their efforts.”

The human-environment connection

Like Wentz, Turner’s geographic research has also spanned scientific fields. His work melds environmental-human science with geography to track how human activity like farming and industry have changed the environment from prehistoric times to the modern-day. 

His projects have included explorations into ancient Maya agriculture, combining remote sensing technology, spatial science and human-environmental science to confront sustainability issues and helping cities battle extreme temperatures through urban planning.

Billie Lee Turner merges human-environmental science and geography to confront sustainability issues and track how human activity has changed the natural world.

Billie Lee Turner II 

He has served on the AAG National Council and Education Board of Annals. Prior to becoming a fellow, he received a Distinguished Research Honors and Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award. 

“Geography has a long tradition of human-environmental science, I believe I am one spokesperson for this science having made contributions from prehistory to current sustainability,” he said. “I see the fellow award as a culmination of my ties to the geographical sciences.”

Turner said The College is now home to one of the strongest geography programs for graduate students in the country, which will only grow as the field continues to meld with urban planning. For Trisalyn Nelson, director of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, having ASU represented among the AAG’s 2020 fellows serves as a testament to that strength. 

“Billie Turner and Elizabeth Wentz have had an outstanding impact in the field of geography, and continue to be wonderful champions for both the discipline and our school,” Nelson said. “It is great to see both faculty and alumni like Anne Chin being recognized at the national level. It is a testament to the strength of our school, but also the amazing work and contributions of those associated with our program.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences