JURE POČKAJ, BARITONE
The Slovene baritone Jure Počkaj was born in 1984 in Postojna, Slovenia. In 2001, he took his firstsinging lessons with Miran Žitko. In the same academic year, he entered the Young Singers’ Competition of Slovenia, the most important national competition, where he won a Bronze Medal. A few years later, in 2010, he won the Gold Medal in that same national competition. He received the Student Prešeren Award which is given to only a few University of Ljubljana students for his graduation concert staged at the Slovenian Philharmonic in 2008, and top award at the first International Solo Singers’ Competition Bruna Špiler in Montenegro, where he achieved the score of 100.
Mr. Počkaj gained admission to the Ljubljana Academy of Music in 2003 and started attending the classes conducted by Professor Alenka Dernač-Bunta. In 2005, he took additional studies of composition and musical theory with Professor Marko Mihevc, and in 2013 finished his musical education with Professor Uroš Rojko. Mr. Počkaj has been an active participant in several singing seminars held by Tito Capobianco, Helena Lazarska, Adi Danev, Maarten Konigsberger, Breda Zakotnik and others.
As a soloist, Mr. Počkaj has appeared with the Novo Mesto Orchestra in Mozart’s Spatzen Messe, with the Academy of Music Orchestra in Oratorio de noël by Camille Saint-Saens, with the SNG Orchestra Ljubljana, the SNG Orchestra Maribor, and others. The young singer was chosen to perform his own arrangement of the European Union anthem at the WDR Europe Forum. This year he performed in the Opera Buffs showcase and Palm Springs Opera in the Park.
Mr. Počkaj made his operatic debut in SNG Maribor with the role of Baron Douphol in La Traviata, and had a great success as Ping in Turandot and Albert in Werther. At an opening of European Capital of Culture (Evropska prestolnica kulture Maribor) he performed in the opera Črne Maske (Die schwarzen masken). He debuted with the SNG Orchestra Ljubljana, portraying Slook from Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio, taking the part of Morales in Georges Bizet’s Carmen and, as part of his studies, the part of Escamillo in the same opera. He also performed the role of Pripovedovalec (Narrator) for the newly written opera Pastir (Shepherd). Having passed the audition, he continues working on his most recent project with the SNG Orchestra Ljubljana, studying the role of Renato in Un ballo in maschera.
Currently enrolled in the highly exclusive graduate program of the UCLA Department of Voice and Opera as a candidate for the Master of Music degree, in 2013 Mr. Počkaj was chosen to sing in the UCLA All-Stars concert in January, the role of Count Gil in Opera UCLA’s Il segreto di Susanna by Wolf-Ferrari in February, and in May the role of Captain Ybarra in Opera UCLA’s The dove and the Nightingale. This season, he will sing the role of Leporello in Opera UCLA’s Don Giovanni, in February 2014.
Mr. Počkaj received Mimi Alpert Feldman Scholarship, Graduate Division Award and Phil Altman Scholarship. He is a student of the internationally renowned Russian baritone and UCLA Professor of Voice, Vladimir Chernov.
VANESSA VASQUEZ, SOPRANO
Soprano Vanessa Vasquez is originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, and graduated with her Bachelor of Music in Voice from Catholic University in Washington D.C. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Music degree in Opera in the highly exclusive graduate program of the UCLA Department of Voice and Opera, where she is a student of UCLA Professor of Voice, Juliana Gondek.
In 2013, Ms. Vasquez performed the role of Susanna in Wolf-Ferrari’s Il Segreto di Susanna with Opera UCLA. She also premiered the role of Rosa in Roger Bourland’s new opera, The Dove and the Nightingale. Over the summer, Ms. Vasquez attended the Astoria Music Festival, where she performed the role of Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and covered Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello.
This past December, she made her Zipper Hall debut in the Dilijan Chamber Music series at the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles. In February, Vanessa sings the role of Donna Elvira in the Opera UCLA production of Don Giovanni.
She is a proud member of Opera Buffs and was chosen as one of the top ten finalists for the 2013 Palm Springs Opera Competition.
MONA LANDS, PIANO
Pianist Mona Lands, who will accompany Mr. Počkaj and Ms. Vasquez at our March 8th concert, is a graduate of Mills College and received her Masters degree in Accompanying at USC. She has been an accompanist and coach at California State Northridge, California State L.A., the Aspen Opera Theater Center, Opera Pacific’s Overture Company, the Ezio Pinza Council (EPCASO) summer program, Guild Opera, and for the Metropolitan Opera Palm Springs Showcase Concerts. Ms. Lands was also the accompanist for the Angeles Chorale and the Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition.
She is the accompanist and Music Director for the Palm Springs Opera Guild, and for the Opera Buffs Inc., and is Artistic Director for the José Iturbi International Music Competition. As a member of UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music, she works as a vocal coach and as Coordinator of Opera and Accompanying.