The weekend of Thursday, Nov. 12 saw the opening of the University School of Music’s opera season with Le nozze de Figaro, or The Marriage of Figaro, a classic work by musical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist (textual composer) Lorenzo Da Ponte. More of a rarity in the university setting, Professor Dawn Harris, co-director of the Illinois Opera Studio and director of this year’s winter opera explained, “Operas aren’t produced very often because they’re so expensive.” With that, performances require the casting of students that are talented both vocally and as an actor. “To hear the singers sing this music,” Harris said, “It’s like the Olympics of the voice.”
Champaign-Urbana hosts a plethora of that specified type of talent as evidenced by the successfully production of Le nozze de Figaro. The cast featured students of all levels, ranging from undergraduates to doctoral students and University alums. Many of the leads have performed in opera houses throughout not only the country, but across the world, including stints at the Midwest Lyric Opera, Carnegie Hall, and the Amadeus Opernensemble. Also contributing to the quality of the production is Maestro Eduardo Diazmuñoz, Artistic Director of the operas and conductor of Le nozze de Figaro. Commonly referred to simply as “Maestro,” Diazmunoz has been a celebrated and active conductor, educator, and composer in 15 countries over the past 30 years.
This is just the beginning of the opera season at the University School of Music. There will be two more operas this season, one in the winter of ’09 and one in the spring of ’10. The winter production will be unusual because it is not a strict opera, but rather a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific. This is not a first time instance as the opera department has put on at least two similar musicals in the past, Sweeney Todd and Candide, both of which have sophisticated music but are not necessarily operas by industry standard. South Pacific, though a more feel-good musical, tackles the oft-heavy subject of the realities of war. The show is set during WWII in the Pacific theatre and originally premiered on Broadway shortly after the end of the war. The production will be unique for the opera department because, unlike an opera like Le nozze de Figaro, the vocal parts are appropriate for younger singers allowing more undergraduates the opportunity to perform in lead roles. The final opera of the season will be the late April, early May production of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring.
The training ground for the main stage productions is a class called Opera Studio. The studio has live performances this semester on Wednesday, Nov. 18 and Thursday, Nov. 19. Students will perform scenes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and premiere scenes from a new musical, 1787, composed by University Bands Librarian Lucinda Lawrence as a sequel to the popular 1776. 1787 is set during the creation of the Constitution and the events leading up to the creation, namely Shay’s Rebellion. The Opera Studio will perform nine scenes from the upcoming production.
For more information on the University opera program and Opera Studio, visit http://www.music.uiuc.edu/ensemblesOpera.php.

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