Viva Verdi: Scenes fromVerdi's Great Operas
In a studio at the University of Nevada, Reno, the students of Albert R. Lee’s Advanced Opera Workshop are polishing pronunciation and cementing stage cues. Oh, and they’re singing their talented little hearts out.
Though not a tale of a muscly, mythic god saving our planet—again—or a visual thriller with spacesuit-clad cast, Viva Verdi: Scenes from Verdi’s Great Operas might bring a lump to your throat.
The Nevada Chamber Opera’s celebration of 19th century composer Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday is set to deliver powerful emotions without green screens and complicated harnesses on Nov. 22, 23 and 24. During rehearsal, nothing escapes the relentless attention of the student group’s artistic director, from the students’ singing technique to their facial expressions. A lauded performer himself, Lee leverages his myriad experience to push his students from good singers to great opera performers.
“[Opera is] one of the most phenomenal art forms there is, and as a composer Verdi is in my top three,” says Lee. “Part of my passion is that I just won’t allow my students to come to it with a Britney Spears or Rihanna effort.”
Verdi’s celebration has allowed Lee to navigate his students through selections of fan-favorites including La Traviata and Rigoletto.
“The music is totally accessible,” says Lee. “It’s dramatically engaging, but in a way that isn’t over-composed. One of the things Verdi requires that’s difficult for any singer, especially young singers, is that he requires that you sing loud, he requires that you sing soft, he requires that you sing high, he requires that you sing low, he requires that you sing fast. He makes you do everything.”
The challenge is two-pronged: the group must represent an opera legend’s work while hopefully widening its audience base.
The answer likely begins in the studio. Cocktail dresses, Wolf Pack jerseys and Muppet T-shirts, the varied wardrobe during rehearsal represents opera’s potential to connect with diverse individuals.
Master’s student and performer Sherman Modeste comes from a gospel, soul and R&B background, and recognizes it might be difficult for younger generations to appreciate opera. “I happen to enjoy it, but I can see how someone who doesn’t appreciate it as we do could see it to be just as cliché as, say, the next popular song,” he says. “I think it has everything to the performer and what they bring to the genre.”
On stage, the young faces tasked with carrying the often visceral material will signal to many seasoned fans that the art form is in good hands. Off stage, they’re encouraging younger generations to give Verdi a shot.
“I feel like sometimes the spectrum of human emotion gets lost in popular music,” says 19-year-old sophomore and performer Anna Hart. “It’s important to see other aspects of culture. In watching opera, you’re traveling around the world and around time periods.”
Lee hopes to attract many new audience members to the art form. “The stories of the greatest operas are timeless,” he says. “What I hope to do is to be able to build audiences with the things that they love and then when they trust us for always putting on a great product, introduce them to some newer work.”