Students, faculty sing praises for summer opera
program in Rome
By Jane Ford
a cold Saturday morning in January, Alexis Keyser entered Garrett
Hall, found a secluded spot in a stairwell and began to warm up.
Her voice echoed in the stairwell and spilled over into the main
a second-year student majoring in music and psychology, came to
audition for a part in the summer production schedule of the Operafestival
festival is a labor of love for Louisa Panou-Takahashi, director
of U.Va.s Opera Workshop and voice lecturer in the music
department. Panou-Takahashi created Opera-festival in 1995
to provide professional opera experience for students, young artists
starting their careers and faculty members seeking an opportunity
to display their talents.
Concert Rome 2002. Brandee Martin (U.Va.) choreographer.
Also participating: music majors, Erica Cornet and Kristi
who plans to be a professional opera singer one day, is hoping
to be one of 55 chosen for the company. The competition is fierce.
than 300 auditioned for roles as leading or supporting singers,
as members of the ensemble or to participate in the recital programs.
The troupe includes students from all over the world. Audition
sessions are held in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington,
Richmond and Charlottesville.
is a professional production, said Panou-Takahashi. The
U.Va. students who attend are very proud of their results.
program won the 2002 National Opera Association Award for best
production among university and regional theaters.
in late June, the troupe will spend five weeks in Rome where they
will begin rehearsals for this years repertoire: LElisir
dAmore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti and
Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) by Giacomo Puccini,
plus chamber music concerts, Broadway concerts, vocal recitals
and opera-scene performances.
are in a three-star hotel where the daily routine includes three
weeks of master classes, coaching, lessons in lyric diction and
voice, and rehearsals. The relationship [with the hotel]
is a wonderful partnership, said Brandee Martin, a U.Va.
fourth-year student majoring in music and Spanish. She attended
the program the past two summers and praised the family-run hotel.
They even threw a Fourth of July party for us.
the best part is the performance space, said Martin. The
acoustics are wonderful. The troupe performs with a professional
Italian orchestra in the courtyard of the Palazzo della Sapienza
with the 15th-century church of Sant Ivo alla Sapienza as
you hear the orchestra start up at the first rehearsal in the
church courtyard and look at the stars up in the sky, its
just a wonderful feeling, said R. Lee Kennedy, U.Va. associate
professor of drama.
romantic, performing in the courtyard provides challenges, and
planning begins long before everyone assembles in Rome.
scenery is allowed in the courtyard, which means lighting, costumes
and staging take on special roles.
has designed the lighting for four seasons, since 1998. He took
graduate drama students with him in 2000 and 2002.
broadening of their experience is fantastic, Kennedy said,
and it is great credit to see international opera work on
year, three U.Va. music majors and a drama student and professor
participated in the program. They received scholarships made possible
by matching funds from the International Studies Office.
Quandt, U.Va. vice provost for international affairs, said he
is pleased to be able to support a project that allows U.Va.
faculty and students to have an international experience that
will broaden their horizons and engage U.Va. in international
educational and cultural activities.
logistics of bringing all the parts together takes time and careful
planning. The participants must learn their parts, costumes need
to be constructed and props gathered.
Smith, a 1996 M.F.A. drama department graduate in costume design,
said, You have to think of every contingency and take the
things with you.
Smith begins her work early in the planning process. An expert
in period costumes, Smith said she loves the convention
of glitter that is part of the spectacle of opera.
costumes are constructed in Charlottesville from measurements
the singers send to Smith. In Rome, she and five assistants do
the final fittings in the costume shop they set up in the hotel.
create a professional atmosphere and make them feel like stars,
The star behind the scenes is Panou-Takahashi. Her attention to
detail and support and respect for each troupe member is evident,
even at the auditions.
Polit, part of the ensemble chorus last summer, came to the Charlottesville
tryouts from Car-negie Mellon University, where she is a senior.
When it was her turn to sing, Panou-Takahashi asked her to sight-read
an unfamiliar piece. At the piano, Panou-Takahashi did a quick
run-through with her, singing the other part. Polit then tried
the piece on her own.
Basta! Good, Panou-Takahashi said and gave Polit a big hug.