By Davis Coen

Director of the Ford Center Julia Aubrey, an associate professor, who also serves as Director of Opera Theatre in the Department of Music, earned a master of music in vocal performance and a master of arts in theatre from the University of Missouri – Columbia, before arriving in Oxford.  

Aubrey is determined to help those who come into the 1,250-seat auditorium, located on campus, have the best possible experience while they are there.  Whether they are students, faculty, or touring artist performers or audience members, she and fellow staff aim to make visitors “feel welcome, and leave having enriched their lives through the arts,” she said.  

In January 2012, Aubrey was elected president of the National Opera Association, and served as NOA president-elect from 2010 – 2012; vice-president of regions from 2008 – 2010; and governor for the Southeast Region from 2001 – 2007.  The award-winning UM Opera Theatre placed first in the NOA Collegiate Opera Scenes Competition in 2011, and in the NOA Opera Production Competition in 1999.

Professor Aubrey’s research project “Living Masterpieces: An Improvised Opera Exercise” has been featured on tours and festivals, and was part of presentations at national conventions in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Of local note, she was also an associate artistic director of the Oxford Shakespeare Festival, and served as stage and musical director for numerous productions, including tried and true “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.”

Aubrey acted as the Guest Artist Opera Stage Director for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival in Alaska from 2003 – 2005.  Before her tenure at Ole Miss, she staged operas for the Quad City Mozart Festival and opera and operetta productions at her own alma mater.

She recently achieved a personal highpoint in her own professional musical career, and as director, to have world-renowned soprano Renée Fleming at The Ford Center for a free, public event.  

Fleming, the Artistic Advisor at Large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, hosted a panel of regional experts to explore the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience.  “She is not only an incredible artist, but an amazing human being,“ said Aubrey.

With funding from Nancye B. Starnes, the Ford Center will produce “The Music Man” in June.  Their production of this seasoned classic is Aubrey’s personal favorite part of the upcoming event schedule.  “This is a community engagement project that will involve all ages and include faculty, staff, and community members working and performing together on the main stage.”

As far as other good things leading up to then, including an evening with country singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett, Aubrey said, “this entire season has been a celebration of this wonderful performing arts center.”  

Ford Center will kick off the spring 20th Anniversary Gala on March 25, which will feature Grammy award-winning, legendary soul singers Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr.

Professor Aubrey and her colleagues are also putting the finishing touches on a book about the history of the Ford Center which they aim to have published in time for the gala.

Another early-spring highlight will be the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” on Mar. 30.   

The two-decades-old Gertrude C. Ford Center is unique in many ways, although it draws expected comparisons to other similar venues with the same capacity.  “This is a magnificent performing arts center that rivals any theatre its size in the region,” said Aubrey.

Of course, the structure and size of the building aren’t as significant to drawing audiences as dedicated staff, such as Aubrey and her co-workers, who continue to move the center towards more milestones to come.