Voice students tackle operatic scenes Tuesday, Wednesday

Rachael Le Goubin | Staff Photographer
Students in the School of Music’s Voice Program rehearse Saturday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall with the Music School Festival Orchestra for Monday’s Amphitheater performance of La Rondine. Voice students will perform an assortment of opera scenes beginning at 2 p.m. today in Fletcher Music Hall.

It has been 53 days since the students of the Voice Program stepped foot in Chautauqua. Since day one, they have been working nonstop, not only to put on great performances, but also to improve as performers.

Beginning at 2 p.m. today in Fletcher Music Hall, the students of the Voice Program will take audiences through an assortment of operas in an array of languages for two days of voice opera scenes.

Directors Mikhaela Mahony and Peter Kazaras, director of opera studies at UCLA, said the voice opera scenes will not only showcase the students’ talents but also show how far they have come through their training.

“These are scenes chosen to fit the need and training requirement of the students,” Kazaras said. “Some scenes will let the students shine, and some are chosen to help their education. We have people from age 17 to age 30 or older. We have all sorts of levels and they’re all excellent.”

With 20 scenes from classic operas like Carmen, The Marriage of Figaro and La traviata, today and Wednesday’s program will unravel stories using Italian, Czech, Russian, French and English.

Some of the most important lessons Kazaras and Mahony have been working on with the students are the power of storytelling and staying true to the character. Both Mahony and Kazaras said that allowing oneself to embody the role and ensuring that the true voice of the character is being heard is the delicate balance of not only performing, but telling stories of opera.

“With opera, you have so many means of storytelling,” Mahony said. “The physical storytelling, the actors inhabiting the roles and also moving physically through space conveys a story. It is exciting letting the music both be a huge element of storytelling but also finding the time when you’re going to move against the tempo and let the music just carry you.” 

Kazaras said for an opera to work — to have its “real punch” — the performer can’t comment on the material.

“They just have to deliver it. They have to deliver it with meaning and with feeling and without false sentimentality,” he said. “The performer has to understand what the character is going through and that’s why there are a million interpretations. Each performer is different and that’s what’s great about it. That’s why the story continues to live and in an interesting way.”

In addition to learning how to illustrate stories through body and voice with opera, Kazaras said one of the main lessons he hopes that his students learn is that while failure is inevitable, it can also be beneficial.

“You have to give yourself permission to fail,” Kazaras said. “When you do that there’s no telling what will happen and that is thrilling on both sides of the table. You may think you’ve failed and other people think you’ve succeeded or you may think you’ve succeeded and other people think you failed, but it doesn’t matter. You just have pick yourself up the next day and you keep working.”

Over the course of the season, the students have been working to perfect their craft, and Mahony said that today and Wednesday’s performances will jolt audiences with a feeling of discovery.

“You, as an audience member, are going to go to discover new things,” she said. “There’s something really special about having that attitude of discovery as an audience member and then performers coming on stage who are also in the midst of discovering new scenes. For a lot of them, this will be their first time performing this repertoire and so you get to be a part of that discovery and watch them discover as you do as well. I think that is a rare thing to see in a performance and there is an electricity to that.”

All proceeds from today’s event will benefit the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.