Opera hasn’t exactly carved out a place in today’s popular music. In fact, most students probably don’t have an opera station bookmarked on Pandora or can even name five famous operas. But opera may soon take over campus.
Opera Workshop is a new program developed through the music department by lecturer Cynthia Wohlschlager. David Donelson, professor of music and former Chair, said the department wanted to bring a program like this to Malone for a while and Wohlschlager’s interest proved to be perfect timing.
“It was an aspect of the music department we didn’t have but we felt it was necessary for students who were interested in opera to give them a well-rounded education,” Donelson said.
Wohlschlager proposed the idea after students showed interest in gaining experience on a theatrical level. She said opera workshop would combine student need with a medium that would showcase their talents.
“[Wohlschlager] has extensive background in opera and opera training, she is a really phenomenal voice teacher and we knew she could pick up the idea and run with it, which is what she’s done,” said Donelson.
The workshop will hold two scenes programs – one per semester. The performance will not be a full production of one specific opera; rather students will perform a collection of famous scenes from multiple operas. These scenes are to be presented in a full theatrical setting with costumes, set pieces and props.
“Our intent is to modernize and not do the same old tired staging of something that people have seen over and over again,” Wohlschlager said.
Unlike most casting processes where people are cast for a specific part, opera pieces were chosen specifically for individual singers. After holding auditions, Wohlschlager chose songs that would feature each student’s talents and strengths.
Based on the success of this year’s first trial, Wohlschlager said she hopes to get to a point where the workshop will perform one full opera production per year.
Despite being in a culture where most students have never been exposed to opera, Wohlschlager said opera is still relevant to students.
Wohlschlager, who went to college to study music education, never heard an opera before when her professor asked her to audition for an opera chorus. She reluctantly agreed and said her only thought of opera was “lady in horns.”
“All of the sudden here I am at first rehearsal and…literally I was transported, the sound was so beautiful that I couldn’t imagine how the human body made it,” Wohlschlager said. “It became this completely enveloping art form for me.”
Wohlschlager said she understands students’ unfamiliarity about the opera scene and wants to show how relevant it can be. Part of her plan to modernize it includes changing the atmosphere. She said most people have a perception that opera should be formal and revered. Instead, the first performance will be presented with a “coffee shop” ambiance where the audience can relax and enjoy the show.
Wohlschlager said the unpopularity of opera does not come from dislike, but because people are not exposed to it.
Donelson said that the workshop is designed to give the audience that first time exposure to opera.
“It’s important for everyone to keep their opinions open until they have heard and seen and not assume they won’t like it,” Wohlschlager said. “I am proof that one cannot have ever heard an opera before and fall in love with it on first hear.”
Wohlschlager said the program has proved to be successful so far. 12-14 students have signed up and already have performances memorized. The debut of the opera workshop was a preview at parents’ weekend which Wohlschlager said was well-received.
Donelson also said the workshop is off to a great start and he sees it becoming even bigger than it is now.
Recent graduate Laurel Weir, who came back to finish up one more year to add a music degree, is one of the students involved with the opera workshop. Weir said performing music professionally is her goal and this workshop gave her the perfect opportunity to experience what that would be like.
Weir and other students involved with the workshop visited the Tuscany region of Italy for a month this past summer with Wohlschlager as part of the Sessione Senese Per Musica e l’Arte, where they performed eight concerts in four weeks.
Weir said the opera workshop will prove to be a force to be reckoned with on campus.
“The biggest misconception with opera is that it is a Viking woman with horns on her head with a big metal helmet, but opera is such a beautiful, brilliant thing,” Weir said.
The first show will be a scenes performance held at 3pm, Nov. 11 in the Stewart Room. There also will be another scenes performance in April. The workshop will be involved with Christmas at Malone when they perform a full performance of Amahl and the Night Visitors – a story about a disabled boy’s encounter with the three wise men.
There is an open-audition policy and any students who are interested in singing, acting or dancing should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wohlschlager said that people should not be reluctant to view a performance because they have never seen an opera or they don’t know the language. Wohlschlager also said to keep in mind that opera is a live performance much like movies or television are performances.
“You cannot deny the human passion within it, you can’t deny the beauty…you can’t deny how it makes you feel and that is relevant,” she said.
Steena Hymes is the managing/news editor of The Aviso AVW