Mozart meets Menotti
Opera Workshop moving in the right direction
One of last fall’s small musical wonders was the Chico State Opera Workshop production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a short baroque opera mixing courtly gaiety and tragedy. The set was intelligently designed and the acting appealing. The production was put together (with David Rothe and Jeffrey Gemmell) by current Opera Workshop Director Daun Hayes.
Hayes, a soprano with a clear, almost choirboy-quality voice, arrived on the Chico scene about five years ago, having grown up in Gridley before moving to Oregon for college and, after that, a master’s degree in vocal performance at the University of Oregon.
Sometime after, Hayes and her husband moved to Chico, where she slowly became involved with Rothe and Gemmell’s various baroque music activities. When an opportunity to direct Chico State’s struggling Opera Workshop arose, she took it.
The workshop’s latest production, A Battle of the Sexes, comprised scenes from three operas, Gian-Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti. The singing was eager and energetic, if not overwhelming, and the accompanying acting was bright and engaging. Hayes herself opened the program by explaining some of her objectives. “My goal is teach singers how to move on stage,” she began, and then proceeded to use her actor-singers to demonstrate exercises she employs in teaching facial expressions and body positioning.
I talked to Hayes after the concert. Chico State’s opera program has weakened over the last few years, and with its weakening its ability to draw promising students has lessened. Hayes was especially happy that she was able to find three male singers for “The Battle"—student Dug Warrender, local graduate Andrew Hazen and the always resourceful, multi-talented Lee Holcomb, who has fine stage presence and strong vocal projection.
But a good man is hard to find. And so are resonant women’s voices. I asked Hayes about the difficulties in moving female voices down out of the throat and mouth and into the guts, where most great voices are located. She said this was an ongoing problem, one complicated by the fact that re-centering a student’s voice takes a long while, and she has relatively little time at the workshop level to work with individual voices. The workshop classes are devoted primarily to preparing programs, a process further complicated by the fact that the time in such classes must be split among a number of different performing groups.
Her singers, about one-third non-students and two-thirds students, do take lessons—either from her or from fellow faculty members Linda Snodgrass and Jeff Gemmell, and there is hope that, with an ongoing, polished program led by an attractive, personable, and forthright teacher, the Opera Workshop will be able to develop and become, again, a Chico institution one can depend on.
As far as the program is concerned, I liked Kathleen McHatton’s cutely expressive face, Gretchen Gerliss’ well-placed voice, and the clowning around in the Cosi Fan Tutti finale. My only complaint is that, after this finale, just before which the two male lovers, Dug Warrender and Andrew Hazen, pretend to drink poison and spend a fine time busily “dying,” they do no more than gently put their arms around their respective lovers, Sarah Van Hoy and Adrian Estabrook. No. That’s the time for a couple of loud, back-bending smacks.