Contrary to popular belief, opera is not a stiff, boring, antiquated art form. In fact, even though it has been around for a few hundred years, opera is still a very entertaining form of music, as the audience found out last weekend here at Erskine. Through the combined work of about a dozen music students here, a piano accompaniment, and a voice professor’s direction, the music department presented “Mad About Mozart” on Friday and Saturday, highlighting scenes from three of Mozart’s operas: The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and The Marriage of Figaro.
The program was short, not even an hour, but the program featured various ensemble sizes, experience levels, and dramatic styles. Last year the department performed Dido and Aeneas, a complete hour-long opera, with a full cast of singers and Sinfonia, our orchestral group. This year we decided to do scenes from larger works to feature more solos and ensembles, because our department is a bit too small to do a full-scale, 3-4 hour long opera. It worked out well, because it encouraged some less experienced singers to try something that they had never done before, without having to commit to a huge role.
We performed all of the music in the English translation, to make the music more accessible to the audience – most of the audience was probably was inexperienced in attending an opera performance as many of the cast were in performing it! I especially enjoyed getting to play three different characters, one in each scene; first, I was one of three lady attendants to the queen of the night, then a new bride with a score to settle, and, finally, a flirtatious page boy. . . yep, I played a boy. The latter is called a “pants role”, which is a role in an opera written specifically for a woman to play a male character, usually a young boy or adolescent. I have to say, I actually thoroughly enjoyed this role – it was certainly a challenge to master some masculine mannerisms, but I liked the acting challenge. How often will I ever get to play a boy on stage?
This morning in my lesson my voice teacher – also the professor who directed the opera – and I were already talking about possibilities for the opera workshop next year, so who knows what we will decide? It’s funny to think, sometimes, that I have ended up singing opera, and so much classical music, because even a few years ago I never would have even thought about doing that sort of music. I did plenty of musical theater, show choir, and choral singing in high school, but it was not until I got to college and started taking voice lessons that I found out that I have a more “classical” voice; before studying music I also had no idea how much work and training that it takes to sing opera, which I can appreciate now. I suppose that it just shows, once again, how much college opens up new opportunities and allows you to change and mature, sometimes in ways that you didn’t expect.