Ellen Denham is a soprano, voice teacher, writer, and director who teaches voice and directs the Opera Workshop at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. She received a doctorate in Vocal Performance and Literature with a Cognate in Theatre from the University of Illinois after receiving her B.M. from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and M.M. from the New England Conservatory of Music.
Prior to coming to TAMU-CC, Denham taught voice at Earlham College, Georgia College, and at the University of Illinois as a Teaching Assistant. Throughout her nearly two decades of teaching at the College level, her students have received awards from the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), have performed as soloists with community and professional organizations, and have gone on to degree programs in voice at institutions including NYU, Indiana University, Kentucky State University, and Ball State University. Her students at TAMU-CC have performed lead roles in Opera Workshop productions as well as Musical Theatre productions in the Department of Theatre and Dance. In addition to teaching voice, Denham teaches Voice Tech for Instrumentalists and the First-Year Seminar for Music majors. She has previously served on the Core Curriculum adjunct faculty of Butler University teaching a First-Year Seminar, taught Public Speaking at the University of Illinois, and served on the Voice faculty of Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.
Dr. Denham began her directing work in experimental theatre pieces at the Indy Convergence arts residency. She has since been recognized as a semi-finalist for the American Prize for Stage Directors (Charles Nelson Reilly Prize) in both the Theatre/Musical Theatre and Opera Divisions for her innovative productions for TAMU-CC Opera. During doctoral studies, she served as Assistant Director for the mainstage University of Illinois operas Orpheus in the Underworld and The Merry Widow. In 2013, she was invited to direct the Umbrella Project of the Indy Convergence residency, an exploration of the subject of Otherness based on her concepts and created collaboratively by the performers using dialogue, dance, and an improvised soundscape of voices and instruments. Other directing projects have included a comic soundscape based on internet memes and an exploration of different ways to utilize improvisation in opera. She has received two grants from the Indiana Arts Commission for her collaborative work and has presented on “Challenges and Solutions for the Developing Collegiate Opera Program” at the National Opera Association National Conference. Denham is scheduled to join the faculty of the Druid City Opera Workshop for summer 2021 as a Directing Intern (summer 2020 was cancelled due to COVID).
Praised for her interpretive skills, clear tone, and effortless ornamentation, Denham is equally comfortable on the opera and musical theatre stage, as a concert soloist, and in multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and improvised works. Opera and musical theatre roles include Violet in Rorem’s A Childhood Miracle, Martha Sheldon in Ward’s The Crucible, Jenny in The Threepenny Opera, Cinderella’s Stepmother in Into the Woods, and the Actress in Love Games, a new musical by Joseph Turrin. She is a past winner of the Encouragement Award from the North Carolina District Metropolitan Opera Council and has performed roles with Indianapolis Opera, Piedmont Opera Theatre, Intimate Opera of Indianapolis, and Lyric Theatre at Illinois. Her solo concert work has included songs by Salvatore Martirano on the 2012 Martirano Award Concert, guided improvised singing with Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra, and oratorio solo work including the MonteverdiVespers, Mozart Vespers, Mozart Requiem, Handel Dixit Dominus, and multiple Bach cantatas.
An accomplished writer as well as a performer, Denham is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshopand has had short fiction published in magazines including Lightspeed,Daily Science Fiction, NewMyths.com, and the anthology Gears and Levers 3 by Sky Warrior Books, as well as writing articles for Classical Singer magazine. Combining her work in writing with her performing background, she has written several works for the stage, including the libretto for Butler Ballet‘s critically acclaimed production of The Willow Maiden, using her original story with an original score by Frank Felice. Her other works for the stage include the libretto for a musically improvised opera, Homo Homarus, premiered at the Indy Convergence and later restaged at the University of Illinois, and two premieres for TAMU-CC Opera: Pinstripe Harry’s Tea Room Cabaret,a jazz-age Musical Theatre work using music of Porter, Gershwin, and others; and Midsummer Night’s Music, her original Shakespeare adaptation using music of Henry Purcell.
Denham’s primary research area is the use of improvisation in opera. She has presented her work on improvisation at the College Music Society Southern Regional Conference and as part of the Artist Series of the Texoma region of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS). Her doctoral project, “Improvisation as a Generative Tool for New Opera: An Exploration of Methods and Parameters,” includes a study of historical antecedents for improvisation in opera as well as contemporary trends, and culminated in a lecture-performance demonstrating the methods studied. Her other research interests include the relationship between music and poetry, explored in the essay “Schubert and Goethe: A Transcendence of Competing Aesthetics,” presented at the Hawaii International Conference of Arts and Humanities.
A strong believer art that crosses boundaries of genre and artistic discipline, Denham continues to explore improvisation and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Along with her colleagues in the Department of Theatre and Dance and Department of Art and Design, she coordinates an annual collaborative improvisation festival at TAMU-CC.