Opera Workshop to Treat Audience to Classics

A group of Asbury University students took advantage of Christmas break to work even harder as they prepared for Asbury’s semi-annual Opera Workshop.

Opera Workshop is offered every other year, alternating with a more varied program, such as last year’s “Broadway Cameos.” This year’s Opera Workshop repertoire will draw from four operas: “The Magic Flute,” by W.A. Mozart, “The Tender Land,” by Aaron Copland, “Hansel and Gretel” by Engelbert Humperdinck, and “The Old Maid and the Thief” by Gian Carlo Menotti. A performance for local school children will be offered at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 14, and a public performance will be offered at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 16 in Akers Auditorium on the Asbury campus.

According to professor Jill Campbell, director of Opera Workshop, students rehearse two hours a week together, and some rehearse from five to seven hours per week outside class.

“Opera Workshop really allows students to step into their own performing,” she said. “It’s different than just performing vocal jury, or performing with a choir, or even singing a solo with a choir. This is theater and music combined in a classical setting, using polished technique. Singing opera scenes is demanding, because the vocal ranges are very broad and the acting and scene settings introduce a whole new element that has to be amalgamated together. It can be very hard, but rewarding at the same time.”

Campbell says Opera Workshop has helped her grow as an educator as well, challenging her to find new ways to push students to do their best.

“Some of the students singing are the best singers that we have here at Asbury,” she said. “It’s made me look how I can push them beyond what they’ve been doing so far, and it’s also made me think creatively about how to help students learn and memorize in new ways.”

Campbell says she’s had good help this semester — music professor Mary Anne Wilder has served not only as accompanist, but as a vocal coach.

“Prof Wilder is amazing and her coaching vocal coaching is invaluable to what we’re able to do,” Campbell said. “A lot of what we’re able to do is because of how giving and talented she is.”

Senior Jonathan Wilkes says Opera Workshop is useful as a hands-on training as well as an important educational experience for music students.

“Everyone knows Broadway, but not everyone knows opera,” he said. “Broadway is so popular, but Broadway was birthed from opera, and it’s good to know those roots. To truly appreciate something, you have to know where it comes from, how it works, where it got its beginning.”

Sophomore Fairynne Mathison has found that the varied repertoire has pushed her vocal and stylistic range.

“I’m singing a lot of different styles of music, from Mozart to Copland, a 20th century writer,” she said. “All of it’s in English, so that’s helped, but it’s also been a challenge, because when you’re singing foreign languages, a lot of times you can fake diction if you don’t remember the words. In English, though everyone’s expecting to be able to understand it, so you have to make sure that you’re understandable, that your notes are clear, that your vowels are clear.”

With engaging music, costumes, and a whole semester of preparation undergirding two performances, Opera Workshop will defy any stereotype of stuffiness.

“Just because it’s opera doesn’t mean it’s boring,” Mathison said. “I love Broadway and musical theater just as much as the next person. Opera is a completely different music style, but it’s just as much fun, and it’s a show as worth seeing as ‘Grease,’ the Sophomore Musical, will be next spring. Everybody’s put so much work into it, and it will be a great show with some really fun numbers, but also some serious numbers, and very moving works of music.”

--by Joel Sams '15

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