Ben in Opera

Ben, a first-year graduate student pursuing a Master’s of music in vocal performance, is performing February 8 and 10, 2008, in Liebe, L’amour, L’amore . . .Tell me the Truth about Love!, an opera gala presented by the Meadows Symphony Orchestra and Meadows Opera Theatre. The concert, which includes works from multiple operas and composers, will bring the beauty, excitement, pain and thrills of love to concertgoers.

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A gala’s opening night

Update: Watch a student’s videos of the gala performances here.

WOW! What an amazing dress rehearsal followed by a FANTASTIC opening night! I cannot remember when I last had a final dress rehearsal on the same day as the first performance, but I can definitely say it makes for an exciting ride!

The final run-through
Starting at roughly 4 p.m. Friday, February 8, we began the final run-through. Up until then, our rehearsals with the Meadows Symphony Orchestra were set up so those instrumentalists not playing on all the pieces could leave after they were done (some pieces ask for four violins, some ask for 10 … it’s all based on the composer’s prerogative).

With the show only a few hours away, the time had come to put all the pieces in order and make sure entrances and exits would run smoothly. The devil is in the details, and opera is no exception. A big part of any show is keeping the action going, which in our case meant an easy flow of performers on and off the stage so the action (a.k.a. music) could continue.

The dress rehearsal went by in the blink of an eye, and before we all knew it, we were rushing home to change, eat, get pretty and be back by 7:30 for an 8 p.m. show.

Showing our range
My part in the gala consisted of three numbers: the “Brindisi” from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, the “Smugglers Quintet” from Carmen by Georges Bizet, and “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide by Leonard Bernstein. All three pieces presented different challenges and rewards.

TexasOperaTheater1-sm.jpg The “Brindisi,” one of the big numbers in the gala, employed everyone in the opera ensemble. It’s one of those tunes you’d know anywhere, even if you’ve never been to an opera. I don’t think we realize how often pieces from operatic works are used in commercials (mostly car commercials, I might add). (In the photo: Audra Scott and Mhlabuhlangene Buthelezi singing “Brindisi.”)

Heavy lifting
In the final two pieces mentioned, I was part of a small ensemble or a featured soloist. This meant preparing my part on my own over Christmas break so I’d be ready to put it together with my fellow singers when I returned. For the Quintet from Carmen, I needed all the practice time I could get.

Not only is the piece in French, it also moves VERY quickly and demands precise pronunciation. To make this happen, I had to start by speaking the text slowly, working my way up to a ridiculous speed. It all adds up to muscle memory … your mouth and tongue begin to remember the movements, how the words feel, etc. This is but one step in what I’ve heard many teachers refer to as the “idiot method.” Instead of trying to learn everything at once, you break it down into pieces. First the rhythm, then the music, then the words and finally you put it all together.

To the nines
TexasOperaTheater3-sm.jpgThe best part of any performance is showing the audience the final product … and getting all dressed up, of course! For the women, this means beautiful gowns, jewelry, hair, nails, shoes, etc. For the men, our options aren’t as numerous BUT that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t make the best of the situation, eh? Nothing beats a nice tux with black and silver studs and a matching vest and bowtie. (In the photo: Lindsay Blackmon, Laura Bowden and Audra Scott sing “Hab’ mir’s gelobt” from Der Rosenkavalier.)

Seeing everyone dressed to the nines backstage before the downbeat (the conductor’s first wave of the baton) took my breath away. We’re all so busy and, let’s admit it, fashion comes last when you’re running late for class. Performing gives us the opportunity to show the world what we do every day in the practice room.

The moment you walk out on stage, everything kicks into gear. I’ve found that I must keep a close eye on my energy level, imagining it radiating from my chest to every inch of my body. Whether the piece is energetic or somber, I’ll need that energy to tell my character’s story. I enjoy that part more than anything else; relating an emotion to a group of people through song.

Needless to say, the performance went FANTASTICALLY!!! Due to preparation, professionalism and talent, the Meadows Opera Theatre & Symphony Orchestra showed Dallas how wonderful music-making can be.

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    2 Responses to A gala’s opening night

    1. David Plocher says:

      WOW!!! That is what I kept saying over and over to myself – and when applauding between numbers – to my wife as the Opera Gala took us on its operatic journey.

      Each number was so well performed by both the instrumentalists and vocalists. And the Conducters were a thrill to watch. Thank you SMU for the awesome experience!!!!

      We are so proud of our son Ben and so appreciate the learning opportunities that SMU is offering to him and his fellow students.

      Dave

    2. Melissa Root says:

      Thanks Ben, for your post and your description of preparing an apparently wonderful performance!

      Thanks also for sharing a photo of Laura Bowden. I am the president of her fan club.

      Laura’s mom,
      Melissa

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