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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Western’s Opera Studio showcases student vocals

Months of preparation went into this moment. Costumes were made, sets were painted and songs were learned. Students waited nervously for their turn in the spotlight, and as the curtain rose to a full audience, the time had come.

Welcome to the opera.

Cast members dance in the opening scene, which takes place at the Madrid Carnival. // Photo by Kesia Lee
Cast members dance in the opening scene, which takes place at the Madrid Carnival. // Photo by Kesia Lee

In late April, the Western Opera Studio premiered two one-act shows, “Goyescas” and “Gianni Schicchi,” in the choir room as their combined big show for the year. These two short operas showcased almost 50 students, including some students who are not music majors.

Every third year, the Opera Studio gets the chance to perform on the main stage, and last year it was their turn. In other years, smaller productions are put together and students perform on another stage.

“I think by doing two shows, that was kind of daring,” said junior Taylor Iverson, a student in Western’s opera program. “I don’t think I have heard of any other school doing that, at least in my college years.”

“Goyescas” tells a dramatic story of forbidden love, which contrasted the story of “Gianni Schicchi,” a comedy regarding a fight over the will of a deceased relative.

“I love to make people laugh, I love to make people feel things, and this is such a great genre to do that,” said Dr. Amber Sudduth Bone, assistant professor of voice and director of Opera Studio and stage of the annual opera production.

Performances are given by students in the music program and each work is sung in the original language. Because the words are sung in a different language, English translations are usually projected on a screen above the stage for the audience to follow along with what the characters are saying.

During 2013-14, the Western Opera Studio presented their production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Benjamin Britten, based on the play by William Shakespeare, which won first place in the National Opera Association Competition for Opera Production in Division III.

Taylor Iverson (middle) aggravates a fight between Rachel Brown (right) and Jeremiah O’Brine (left) in order to create trouble for her own amusement. // Photo by Kesia Lee
Taylor Iverson (middle) aggravates a fight between Rachel Brown (right) and Jeremiah O’Brine (left) in order to create trouble for her own amusement. // Photo by Kesia Lee

As first-prize winners of the 2014 Opera Production Competition, the singers continue to build an environment of excellence in their performances and production.

This was not only their first major award, but it was the first time they had entered this competition.

As competitors in this contest, Western rivaled universities from all over the world including Rutgers University in New Jersey and Jacksonville State University in Alabama.

The opera offers both small-scale studio productions as well as collaborations with the WWU Symphony Orchestra and the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Last year, while preparing for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the directors were faced with the struggle of finding singers for some unusual parts in the show.

“[‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’] has some unusual voice types in it, and we were able to fill those with the students we had at that time,” Bone explained. “There’s a low bass and a contralto role and a countertenor.”

There are often many showings of a particular opera, and no matter how much work the performers put into it, each show ends up being slightly different as the actors respond to the energy of the crowd and their peers on stage.

“When you watch them, they’re just so busy reacting to what’s happening on stage that it’s almost like a different show every night,” Bone said. “You never know what they’re going to do because they are being so genuine and honest.”

Taylor Iverson (left) flirtatiously embraces Patrick Kennedy (right) in a scene meant to represent the Madrid Carnival during the opening night on Friday, April 17, at the Preforming Arts Center. // Photo by Kesia Lee
Taylor Iverson (left) flirtatiously embraces Patrick Kennedy (right) in a scene meant to represent the Madrid Carnival during the opening night on Friday, April 17, at the Preforming Arts Center. // Photo by Kesia Lee

Opera productions require hours of research, collaboration and practice in order to get a desired performance. Not only do the performers have to become their character, but every singer has to rehearse their musical numbers and the entire scene has to be set.

A normal performance requires a rehearsal every day for around two hours in the months leading up to the show.

“It takes a lot of work, I think the hardest part is probably memorizing and learning your role,” said junior Julian Fajardo, a student in the music program. “That takes a lot of work and a lot of frustrating rehearsal processes. I think the length of time it takes is the hardest.”

Preparation for next year’s production of “Così Fan Tutti” by Mozart has already started over a year in advance with visits to castles and learning about the medieval time period.

The director is responsible for converting the opera into the story that they want to convey to a particular audience. This work involves extensive research and a constant flow of ideas to make each story their own.

“Over the summer, I just read and read,” Bone said. “I kind of keep a notebook of ideas, and most of them I either get in the middle of the night or when I’m in the middle of a swimming pool where it is totally inconvenient to write them down.”

Opera music allows students from all majors to come together and perform and show off their talents.

“When your voice is really working, you feel like what you really want to say is pouring out through the music and the words without any blockage,” Bone said. “You’re not sick, you’re not emotionally worried about something else, and you’re just really connecting to it.”

Rachel Brown (left) played the role of a highborn noble woman Rosario whose husband duels with Patrick Kennedy (right) over her love. // Photo by Kesia Lee
Rachel Brown (left) played the role of a highborn noble woman Rosario whose husband duels with Patrick Kennedy (right) over her love. // Photo by Kesia Lee

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