Steven Block, music department chair; Sheilah Garcia, Leslie Umphrey, director, opera theatre; Sam Shepperson, opera faculty; and UNM College of Fine Arts Dean Kymberly Pinder acknowledge and celebrate Garcia's generous gift to the UNM opera program.


Sheilah Garcia has always had a great interest in music. She studied piano and encouraged all five of her children to learn to play, too. Her appreciation of music transcends listening to CDs or sitting in the audience. Garcia recently gave $50,000 to the UNM opera program to endow student scholarships.

"I know that schools across the country are strapped for money. I am aware that there were no scholarships for the opera program and I've always loved opera and what UNM does," Garcia said, adding that she is happy to provide for the endowment.

Leslie Umphrey, director, Opera Theatre, and vocal area coordinator; and her colleague Sam Shepperson, are an operatic team. Umphrey said, "Sheilah knows more opera than I'll ever know. She has a passion. This gift goes right to my heart and my heart is full."

Shepperson added, "We are most grateful for the students. The program is for the students. This helps us build something tangible. We sense that we are growing, making progress."

When Garcia arrived at Umphrey's office to sign the endowment paperwork, the College of Fine Arts had a gift for Garcia. Javier Gonzalez, a graduate student in music, sang two pieces for Garcia: Vesiti la giubba from the opera Pagliacci, and Granada. He was accompanied by Luciana Simoes, a graduate student in collaborative piano. Garcia was moved and delighted by her private concert.

Umphrey said that although the students in the opera program number around 30, the opera program provides opportunities for many other students in the arts. "When we present our spring program, the UNM orchestra will accompany us. Dancing, lighting, stage design, costumes and technical assistance engage students and faculty across the college," she said.

Their spring program features two works by Giacomo Puccini: Suor Angelica, and Puccini's first opera, Le Villi. Both will be performed on Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. in Keller Hall.

"Every student gets a part. We're proud of that," Shepperson said. He noted that the students started working on the music for the spring performance in November. Opera students sing through the winter break. He added that giving all music students the opportunity to perform provides long term benefits to the art of opera and music. "They become music teachers and tell students of their opera experiences," he said, adding that between 20 and 30 percent of the students are music education majors.

Garcia, who also provided funding to the School of Architecture and Planning for its Garcia Honda Auditorium, said that support needs to transcend funding. "People need to attend programs. Sponsorship is only part of it."

Media Contact: Carolyn Gonzales (505) 277-5920; email: