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Students learning as they prepare for opera

Posted on Mar 12, 2012

Students in the Opera Workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Superior are learning the skills they need to bring the operetta "The Merry Widow" to life this spring in Thorpe Langley Auditorium.

"The Merry Widow" is composer Franz Lehár's light-hearted work from 1905 about the rich widow Hanna Glawari and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the fictional country of Pontevedro by finding her the right husband.

Lead roles are double cast

Kylie Cochran, a vocal performance major from Superior, and Crystal Toner, a vocal performance major from Minong, Wis., will play Hanna in the production. The vocalists for the lead roles have been double cast, a theatre term for casting two people in the same role and splitting performance time.

"There are definite advantages in that, but it's tricky," said Dr. Vicki Fingalson, professor of voice and opera at UW-Superior. "There's a lot of competition in our business, but Cochran and Toner have such a helpful attitude toward each other. They're willing to help and support each other."

Heavy rehearsal schedule

Students started rehearsing "The Merry Widow" in the middle of the fall semester for three hours a week.

Cochran and Toner work with each other outside of class running lines, rehearsing and memorizing music, and practicing their choreography. All students involved in the opera must practice outside of rehearsals to learn the dialogue and music.

"It's crucial that everyone cast is a really good, solid person and is able to come prepared. It mimics the real world," Fingalson said. "It starts to give them a little taste of what it's going to be like."

Music and acting

Aside from giving students a taste of a professional opera, preparing the performance gives students opportunities to refine and enhance musical and acting skills.

 "It's hard, becoming the character," Toner said. "Hanna is very confident and put together - not like my personality type."

Even if she finds it difficult, Toner likes playing other characters. "I enjoy taking away a bit of the character," she said. "It gives me confidence in other pieces."

Cochran agrees. "I always love playing characters who are different from me because I enjoy a different perspective." 

Emphasis on learning

Fingalson wants the Opera Workshop to be an opportunity for students not only to perform but also to learn. Her focus is on the process of preparing an opera and preparing a show, not on the end product. She gives students something to learn each day.

"It's really how much they're learning over the course. It's an education," she said. "Where else are they going to learn these things but at school? It's during this time that we're helping them build those tools."

 Part of Fingalson's focus on the learning process involves her choice of opera.

 "I really tried to choose repertoire that's accessible to students but that's going to be a stretch, for them to really develop, but not so much of a stretch that they can't be a success," she said. "I want them to feel like they're successful."

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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