Da Capo - From the Beginning
The curtains open at the Bijou Theater. The wigs and poofy dresses belong to the Knoxville Opera Studio. The singers, however, belong to The University of Tennessee.
Surprise, surprise - UT has many options for students, and one of those is opera.
With several hours of vocal performance and music theory under their belts, students in the music department are singing their hearts out for this year's opera performance of "The Barber of Seville."
Christy Lee, an assistant professor in the school of music, helps coach the young musicians with their voices.
It's a blast to work with the students, Lee said.
"That's why I do what I do. It is very challenging, not only singing opera, but you're dealing with foreign languages," she said.
Top that off with the fact that some of the students are in their first operatic role.
"Helping them learn these difficult things is very challenging, but it is very rewarding to help them figure it out," Lee said.
But opera is not necessarily a new concept to the students. Most already have been working toward it in their individual careers.
"I got involved by singing in chorus in college," Brian Herrin, a graduate student in music and opera participant, said.
Herrin started taking voice when his interest in music heightened. He is now working on his master's.
David Baker, another opera participant and music graduate student, was steered in classical voice as a child.
"I started taking lessons at age eight or nine," Baker said. "I did my first opera as an undergrad (student) and loved it."
This love of the opera is what drives these students to work so hard on this semester's production of "The Barber of Seville."
Obbligato - Indispensable, cannot be omitted
"We have a nationally known program with some of the finest graduates in country," Carroll Freeman, director of "The Barber of Seville," said. "We not only teach, but we also have a unique relationship with the Knoxville Opera Studio."
The Knoxville Opera Company is a professional regional opera company based in Knoxville. They are very supportive in opera education, which is the UT Opera Theater, Lee explained. "The Barber of Seville" is part of the KOC Rossini Festival and is being produced by a professional studio, she said.
The students are part of the KOS, and they work with professionals as part of their training program, Lee said.
UTOT does two productions a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. The fall production is produced with the Bijou Theater, and the spring production is part of the Rossini Festival.
There are three operas written around the character of Figaro: "The Barber of Seville," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Guilty Mother," all three of which will be performed during the Rossini Festival.
The KOC puts on the Rossini Festival, which includes and features UTOT, and pays for everything involved, Freeman said.
"(UTOT) is a small program, but the students are all very hard workers. We have a good time," Lee said. "It's a long show, over two hours of music. It's quite involved."
"As far as the university goes, this is the closest to what a student will get professionally," Freeman said.
The experienced faculty have a lot of practical advice about professional issues, Freeman said.
"I'm excited about the Rossini festival, but nervous as well," Phillip Marlowe, a graduate student in music and opera participant, said. "The whole festival and opera is done with a professional company."
"The joy of performing is really exciting for me," Baker said. "To perform on their playbill is really good. It gives you a chance to have your name associated with that."
Risvegliato - With increased animation
Every afternoon, opera can be heard coming from all directions of the music building. Students have been working diligently on learning their parts, learning Italian and learning their movements on stage.
Freeman is the head of the stage when it comes to opera performances at UT.
The associate music professor works with students on their stage performances practicing the roles. He sits at a table, while students sing in exuberance, moving an arm here and giving a scowl there.
He works with each scene individually, helping the young musicians know just when and how to make everything work.
Chairs line the stage, representing buildings, doors and the more glamorous furniture pieces that will be in place at showtime.
The actors pretend to knock on doors that don't yet exist and pretend to push carts that have yet to be seen. They sing their parts and express their facial emotions, and Freeman critiques every bit, helping to block actors so the performance will be perfect.
The UT Opera Theater participants have been rehearsing approximately 12 to 15 hours each week.
Professional actors already know their parts when they are in an opera. They meet three weeks before the show and put it all together.
The UT actors have been working on "The Barber of Seville" since December and before.
"The opera was cast in December, but I've been working longer than that," Marlowe said. "There is a lot of text and music, and this is the first time that I've been in an opera of another language."
Because of that, students have to work on their show months in advance versus only three weeks.
"The students do not already know the parts beforehand, and I can't work with them 12 hours a day for three weeks," Freeman said. "They do have class."
Ad libitium - The speed and Ad Lib manner are left to the performer
The characters in "The Barber of Seville" are all dynamic. The story alone is very confusing, as characters disguise themselves as other characters to trick characters who are tricked, but then are not tricked. They in return trick others who are tricked beforehand only to be very confused.
Herrin plays Count Almaviva in this semester's opera - the more confusing role of the performance.
"The role is very challenging - it is a big role for a tenor," the young performer said. "The Count gets to play several dimensions - he's charming, yet he's a playboy. The Count is in disguise as a drunken soldier, a music teacher and dressed as a student."
And those dimensions are what make the play comical. The character of Figaro helps to bring a whimsical side to the plot.
Marlowe is one of the actors who plays Figaro, the jack of all trades who helps the Count try to win Rosine's love.
"Figaro is the character of choice for me," Marlowe said. "I feel like my life is sort of parallel to his (life). I like to do a little of everything. I really identify with the character."
Since several of the main roles are double cast, the actors and actresses can learn and feed off of each other.
Baker also plays the role of Figaro.
"Figaro ... somewhat ties everything together," Baker said. "He acts as a narrator. His role is a lot more fun. He's out having fun doing his own thing."
"I've been working on it for the past three months. Some of the challenges are singing in Italian and presenting yourself on stage so the audience can understand (what is going on)," Baker said.
Currently the actors are still working on their performances, but on April 17, the first of their performances of "The Barber of Seville" will begin.
Published: Wed Feb 25, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:52 p.m.