Opera program makes its way to center stage

Opera program makes its way to center stage

Opera program makes its way to center stage
March 04
22:49 2015

Kayleigh Bywater / Staff Writer

Since 1935, UNT’s opera program has been performing pieces composed in many different languages and styles. A part of the College of Music, the opera stands tall with its classical music, unique attire and showmanship.

The first two performances put on by UNT’s opera were in 1935 with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” and Mamie Smith’s “El Tor.” Since then, there have been more than 100 performances with music from composers like Monteverdi, Tchaikovsky and Mozart.

A dreamy adventure

Currently, the group is putting on a performance of “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach.

“The Tales of Hoffmann” is centered on E.T.A. Hoffmann, a Romantic poet who died in the 1820s, and his tales of finding three loves and the adventures and mishaps he gets himself into.

“This play draws people into a journey through the passionate mind of Hoffmann,” voice performance graduate student Farah Padamsee said. “Watching or being a part of Hoffmann reminds me in a way of a dream. The characters he creates and each act seem almost ridiculous, but when watching and experiencing it firsthand, it feels so real.”

Voice professor William Joyner not only works with the opera, but also plays the character of Hoffmann. Joyner said although Offenbach wrote the performance, a lot of the play pulls from Hoffmann’s short stories and could possibly be autobiographical.

“In the play, he falls in love with a robotic woman, a younger lady and a high-class prostitute and experiences trouble with each of them,” Joyner said. “He was a consumer of life. If there were drugs or alcohol around, he was likely to partake. He lived an interesting life, and that is definitely portrayed throughout the opera.”

Joyner said everyone in the play has specific character attributes that not only help build up their singing, but bring them out of their shells.

5_opera_web4

Graduate students Chris Oglesby, middle, kneels on stage while clasping the hand of Samantha Kantak, right.

Vocal performance sophomore Michelle Perini recently transferred to UNT, and said the opera has allowed her to fit in perfectly.

“I am a chorus member, but I also play a robot and a call girl,” Perini said. “I am naturally really shy, so that is not my personality at all. But I love singing and acting, and this opera was a great opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone while also doing what I love.”

Behind the scenes

Members of the play will often work behind the scenes as well, taking on multiple responsibilities.

“It is just like a real-world situation,” Perini said. “You do your part, but you also have to work together in order to make sure the job gets done.”

From helping wash costumes to making sure all the props are in their correct places, Joyner said the students work hard in order to make sure the production runs as smoothly as possible.

“I truly believe in the saying ‘There is no I in team,’” Joyner said. “You will see graduate students help direct, chorus members move sets and other production members learning how to work the lights.”

Padamsee said learning the different aspects of production allows students to have more experience for when they graduate and go out into the world.

“It is an opportunity to prepare singers for professional opera experiences after graduation,” Padamsee said. “We know what will be expected of us. This is what we love to do, and being immersed in music and performance is why were are here.”

5_opera_web5Graduate student Alicia Suschena,right, sings on stage. Suschena plays the role of Olympia.

Students performing directly in the opera are not the only ones who assist in the production. Joyner said the theatre department plays a big part in helping with costumes and makeup.

“For lead roles, like me, a man who does not know where to really start with putting on makeup, they help get us ready and do what we need to do to be transformed into our parts,” Joyner said. “It is not easy, and we are really grateful that this department of UNT takes the time to help us.”

Talent strikes

As part of the production, voice professor Molly Fillmore said performers have to train hard in order to sing in an opera like this one. 

“People are born with certain types of vocal instruments and you have to learn how to train them,” Fillmore said. “Opera has no microphones and you have to be able to project your voice over a full orchestra. It is not as easy as it looks.”

Perini said students are not the only ones who should get credit for the production. Without the help of committed professors and voice lesson teachers, the production may not be possible.

“The College of Music is willing to help anyone who has heart and a drive for the opera,” Perini said. “You may not be the next Beethoven at that time, but if you show the potential and drive, they will help you become just that.”

For more information on “The Tales of Hoffmann” and the UNT opera program, visit https://opera.music.unt.edu/

Featured image: The cast of “The Tales of Hoffmann” perform on stage during a rehearsal last month. Photos courtesy of Erin Lancaster

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