Voice Program, MSFO to stage ‘immensely difficult’ Strauss comic opera

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Music Director Timothy Muffitt and the Music School Festival Orchestra join the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program, with leads Britt Truyts (Maschallin) and Jennifer Holloway (Octavian), in a performance of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. Photos by Lauren Rock and Adam Birkan.

Yemi-Falodun | Staff Writer
“Chautauqua has never seen anything like this,” voice director John Giampietro said about his opera finale this season, which follows L’elisir d’amore.

Der Rosenkavalier will be in full bloom, as the Music School Festival Orchestra and Chautauqua’s School of Music Voice Program share the spotlight at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

The German comic opera, written by Richard Strauss, premiered more than a century ago. Der Rosenkavalier, which translates to “The Knight of the Rose,” delves into romantic struggles with patrician Marschallin; her young lover, Count Octavian Rofrano; her crude cousin Baron Ochs; and Ochs’ prospective fiancée, Sophie von Faninal.

“This story is about moments,” Giampietro said. “There are moments in our lives where we’re changed forever. And in this opera, those moments happen throughout.”

Giampietro finds the opera has profound bittersweet moments of sorrow and loss, which adds to the emotional and dramatic impact.

Thanks to the Japanese Noh form for classical musical drama implemented in the production, the audience will see everything on stage in a stylistically open way. Wardrobe and set changes will flow seamlessly with the opera, as the cast will be on stage for the entire performance.

“The stage is always the same,” Giampietro said. “But, there are certain pathways that the actors take all the time.”

Britt Truyts, soprano, will find her way front and center as Marschallin, a role she has been waiting to play all her adult life.

“Somebody took me to an opera house in Germany, because one of our professors was singing there,” Truyts said. “And she was doing such an amazing job. She really touched my soul the way she played Marschallin.”

The moment sparked Truyts, who wants to inspire souls in much the same way.

“I want to be that person to give this kind of emotion to people,” she said. “You want people to connect with something in your voice that makes them connect with something in their past or something that is precious to them.”

From her native Borgerhout, Belgium, to Chautauqua, Truyts has traveled the globe on her quest.

She found her way to New York City, where she met and studied under master teacher Marlena Malas.

“If you’re an instrumentalist, your teacher can show you how to have the position of your hand, to turn your wrist in a certain angle,” Truyts said. “You cannot do that as a voice teacher, so you will start working with images.”

And few people know the art of the voice like Malas does.

“It’s a little bit like living in a dream world, fairytale,” Truyts said. “I learn more in six weeks here than during a year in a conservatory.”

Now, she will have her moment of glory as she graces the stage in the lead role she always wanted.

“If you can touch two people in a group of 500 people, then I’m more than happy,” she said.

Playing opposite Truyts as Octavian is mezzo-soprano Jennifer Holloway, who is more than comfortable playing a man.

“I play trousers roles all the time,” she said. “With my body type, being tall with big shoulders — the hips are a problem though. But I love to play men. I think it’s so much fun.”

Holloway was a euphonium player at the University of Georgia before she got her accidental break in opera.

Holloway applied to the Manhattan School of Music on a whim.

To her amazement, the school sent her an acceptance letter, which included Malas as her primary teacher for the program.

Two weeks before the program began, a letter came for Holloway: “‘Sorry, but Marlena Malas has decided to cut down her studio, so you won’t be able to be her student,’” Holloway paraphrased.

“I saw it as a sign not to move to New York,” Holloway said. City life did appear rather intimidating to her.

But on a train headed to her apartment in Canada, a voicemail came to her phone.

“It was the dean, and he said, ‘Marlena has decided that she will teach you,’” Holloway said. “And I think I did a dance of joy on the train — like a stupid kid from Georgia.”

Since that time, Holloway has proven she belongs on the big stage — as a man or woman.

The self-proclaimed “picky chooser” enjoys how Giampietro creates the context, space and comfort for the singers fully to explore their roles.

“What’s wonderful about John is he does the right amount of intervening and letting people do their thing,” Holloway said.

Below the stage, the MSFO will provide the soundscape for Der Rosenkavalier, which presents hidden instruments an orchestra conductor normally does not direct.

“This is the most challenging thing we’ve ever done,” said Timothy Muffitt, MSFO music director and conductor. “It is an immensely difficult piece of music.”

In opera, more than any other conducted art form, the conductor is a conduit for musical energy. But the voice actors on the stage add a new dimension.

“There’s the expectation of the collaborative part,” Muffitt said. “The stage performers expect we’re going to have the flexibility to move with them as the drama calls for it.”

Every singer brings his or her own elements, which influence how the performance unfolds. And even the slightest thread in the opera’s fabric can affect the whole.

But Muffitt has no fear.

“I’ve seen the kind of growth that will allow us to undertake a project like this,” he said.

David Effron Conducting Fellow Roderick Cox is the production’s assistant conductor. Cox, too, has grown during the season.

“Though this is a mammoth work in the classical repertoire,” he said, “it’s a rewarding experience that will make you a better conductor and a better musician.”