Upon entrance of the facility, the Frank Center is buzzing with students rushing to and fro. The sound of trombones and constant chatter can be heard coming from a nearby classroom as several music majors start the day with a little pre-class practice. There’s something exciting about the music department; you feel as if you are backstage at a show rather than roaming the halls of a learning facility. As you walk around, the faint sound of a rehearsal transpiring can be heard. A few shaky notes, a few corrections from the instructor, until “viola!” the pitch perfect melody fills the air. The music department is in full swing as students and faculty prepare for the fall opera workshop, occurring October 4-6.
Dr. Robert Tudor, chair of the Music Department and director of Vocal Activities, has orchestrated an opera workshop referred to as the fall opera scenes, taking place on Oct. 4, 5 and 6 with musical direction from freelance pianist extraordinaire and former Shepherd adjunct faculty member, Barbara Irvine.
The fall opera scenes take place in the music department every other year, alternating with musical theatre fall productions. Dr. Tudor is in charge of selecting the theme of the program. This year’s theme will be “Opera Imagined – Myths and Morality.” The production consists of a series of opera scenes whose characters are drawn from Greek mythology, fairy tales, political satirists, and the Apocrypha of the Bible.
Students are assigned music in May; however, official rehearsals do not take place until August. Tudor explained that this is due to the fact that the music selections can be very difficult to master. “Many of the scenes employ the Italian bel canto singing techniques, which include technical execution of rapid scalar passages with virtuosity,” said Tudor. Since many of the musical pieces will be in Italian, English super titles will be provided via projector throughout the duration of the evening.
Auditions are held for the opera workshops, but you do not have to be music major to try out. “There are several individuals who are not part of the music department that have tried out for solo or ensemble roles,” said Tudor. He bases his music selection on what kind of soloists he has to work with and explained that there have been times where he previously has had to reconstruct pieces due to a student backing out of the production.
Opera is a skill that is still being mastered among music majors at Shepherd. Although they are able to execute exquisite melodies, it is still a learning process that takes vigorous practice; they are up for the challenge. Baritone Andrew Seaman sings in each of the scenes, and referring to his aria “Come un’ ape” (translated “Like a bee”) from “La Cenerentola,” he said, “I had no idea how hard this was going to be at first – it’s so unbelievably fast! I have loved learning it immensely.”
Barbara Irvine, who will be the featured pianist of the performances, stated that one of the benefits of learning opera is the fact that it teaches students other performing techniques. She believes opera is an important part of the music department and it helps students get more experience with the basic elements of acting.
As the days until show time draw near, the students in the workshop continue to attend rehearsals regularly, as Tudor puts the finishing touches on his production. Tudor withholds an undying devotion for the music department and strives to bring out the best in each of his students, to ensure they are able to perform to the best of their ability come show time. “When we begin rehearsal, I start with these questions: ‘Why are you on the stage? What happened before you entered? What do you want?’ It’s my passion to help them discover the answers and more importantly, how to communicate that to the audience credibly,” Tudor said.
A special preview of the opera scenes for designated attendees will run Oct. 4 at 8 p.m.. Performances open to the public will run on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 6 at 3 p.m.