Pillbox

Vocalists perform vibrant show

Credit: Jennifer Coloma/Publisher Credit: Jennifer Coloma/Publisher

When we think of opera, we usually picture a large soprano in a Viking helmet belting a high, quavering note. It’s perhaps not the most flattering image, and, unfortunately, many people have negative associations with opera as a genre. But the School of Music’s performance of Lovers & Dreams: An Opera Scenes Showcase last Thursday and Friday showed that, far from being boring or inaccessible, opera can be wildly entertaining.

The showcase was held in the small Rauh Black Box Theatre in the Purnell Center for the Arts, making for a simple and intimate venue. Instead of a stage, the vocalists performed on black platforms that held very few props; only a desk, a stone bench, and a few potted flower plants lined the edges of the theater.

The brevity and variety of the performances kept the audience’s rapt attention throughout the program. Each five-minute piece was enough to show an impressive amount of talent — often exploring nearly every note of the vocalists’ range — but short enough to keep the program moving at an entertaining pace.

Interspersed between performances was playful commentary by many of the vocalists who performed. Though somewhat cutesy and clearly scripted, their remarks helped to give context to each of the pieces — something that School of Music shows oftentimes lack.

The showcase presented a unique challenge for the vocalists, performing in a genre that probes and tests the human voice, laying bare every strength and weakness a singer might have. In this case, the strengths were many and the weaknesses were few. Although all of the individual performances were impressive, some of the voices were perfectly suited to the pieces they performed. Though not quite as powerful as some of her peers, senior voice major Samantha Sugarman delivered a beautiful rendition of “Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren” from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier with her sweet vibrato and impressively high range. At the end of the program, senior voice major Ashlinn Dowling gave a powerful performance as Butterfly in “Tutti i fior?” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, filling the entire theater with her strong, resonating voice.

Although the solo performances were all excellent showcases of individual talent, the group performances unquestionably stole the show. Perhaps the highlight of the entire eight-part program was “Nous avons en tête une affaire,” a boisterous scene from George Bizet’s Carmen featuring junior voice majors Mariko Reid, Chloe Holgate, Richard Wood, and Scott Cuva, and fifth-year senior English and voice double major Stephanie Johnson.

Although (understandably) breathless at times, each vocalist in this act delivered rapid, complex musical phrases in speedy succession — and in French, no less. In addition to impressive vocal talent, the performance was also exuberantly acted and elicited cries of laughter and shock as the characters began plunging knives into each other at the end of the piece.

From vibrant acting to jaw-dropping vocal talent, Lovers & Dreams: An Opera Scenes Showcase certainly had a lot to showcase. Not only were the performers’ talent and dedication apparent, but their enjoyment and passion were also contagious, resulting in a program that could sway even the most skeptical opera critic.