VCU Opera to bring laughter and tears

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

VCU opera students will sing their hearts out Nov. 22 and 23 to pieces such as the “Ice Cream Sextet” and “Don Giovanni,” both comedies and tragedies that pushed the students into the national opera spotlight.

With a wide range of scenes, the show blends comedy and tragedy into destiny, deceit, doubt, delight and delicious opera scenes co-directed by Melanie Day and Kenneth Wood.

The show features Mozart’s famous “Così fan tutte (Thus do They All),” a historic opera first performed in 1790. Taking place in Naples, Italy the comedic piece recounts the norms of women and their strangeness at the time. Some of the other pieces, such as the “Ice Cream Sextet,” from the “Street Scene” opera written by Kurt Weill, take place as late as 1946. There is also a scene from Mozart’s tragic “Don Giovanni,” the famous tale of a sleazy philanderer. The show has works from all over the world in a variety of languages and content.

Day and Wood held auditions and selected each individual scene to be performed given the students and variety of talent they had.

“We try to select music that we think would be the best suited for each singer,” Day said. “We try to put together a varied program with comedy, tragedy, different tempos and different time periods.”

The selected pieces also range in difficulty. None are by any means easy, however the more recent works have a musicality and style that Day remarks can be challenging to the performer.

“Particularly in the more recently composed pieces, from the 20th century, they can be very tricky and difficult,” Day said. “It’s not easy to sing, count, dance and act at the same time.”

Alex Harper, a senior in the VCU Music Department, has been working with VCU Opera for four years. He will be portraying Don Giovanni on stage and Guglielmo in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte,” as well as performing in the “Ice Cream Sextet,” a piece regarded as being very difficult.

“The music is modern, it’s written in the ’40s,” Harper said. “The style is very eclectic, it sort of falls in that category of Broadway/opera. Like American opera almost. The style that’s necessary to sort of pull off that particular scene, as well as the demands of the music, from a mental standpoint are sort of paramount to the other scenes that I’m doing.”

On Nov. 9, the VCU Opera program’s opera scenes submission made it to the finals for the National Opera Association. In January 2015, they will present a scene at the national convention for the association. Founded in 1950, VCU Opera has remained a profound undergraduate program that has proceeded to the national finals the past three years.

“The great thing about VCU Opera is that we typically do scenes that highlight the strengths of our singers but also push them and challenge them in ways they will be challenged in the professional world, whether they choose to pursue opera as a career or not,” Harper said.

The Opera Scenes will be presented Saturday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. at the W.E. Singleton Center for Performing Arts. Admission is free.

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