Vocal performers go over the top
CWU vocal students prepare for the upcoming Over-the-TOPera
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Over-the-TOPera will take viewers through a night of operatic arias and absolute silliness at the McIntyre Music Building on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Aria comes from the Italian word “air,” meaning an operatic solo that moves the drama forward. According to Torrance Blaisdell, CWU voice instructor and director of the production, an aria is “like a Shakespeare soliloquy” in the way characters are portrayed through storytelling.
Arias can also be performed out of the context of their operas, given that a piece is more universal in its thematic language.
If the lyrics are relatively general, then the piece can be used wherever it may be needed. In Over-the-TOPera, “we take all these moments from many operas and we make an evening of it,” Blaisdell said.
“Opera was meant to represent people,” Katie Kibota, vocal performance & music education major, said. The portrayal of people in opera historically involves extraneous costume design and makeup.
Victoria Nightingale is the event host, a fictional character whose bold and boisterous nature was inspired by Australian comedian Dame Edna. Known to flaunt her lavish dresses and wigs, Nightingale has been the annual host of the production for four years.
According to Blaisdell, Nightingale has an extensive performance record with the Whiskey Dick Opera Company, a fictional group appropriately named after the Whiskey Dick triathalon race that has taken place in Vantage, along the Columbia River, in July.
“The idea is that she’s just faded glory,” Blaisdell said.
Kibota is one of the students performing in Over-the-TOPera. “[Nightingale] credits herself with knowing everything there is to know about opera. She really puts on a show,” Kibota said.
Nightingale’s elusiveness is the hallmark of her identity. During the performance, Nightingale will explain the story of each upcoming aria to the audience, adding her own flashes of character to liven the mood.
Nightingale is also known for her intense critique of students following their opera performances. Michael Ash, vocal performance major, was told by Nightingale once, that his voice “sounded like that of a dying animal,” Ash said.
However, Nightingale’s voice is “surprisingly low,” Kibota said. She and Ash suspect that Nightingale may be grappling with her own insecurities as a performer.
Blaisdell summarized that Nightingale’s character is meant to show that opera doesn’t always have to be serious. “We’re comfortable in our own skin, and we value the art. So we can have fun,” Blaisdell said.
While the performance is expected to attract a lively audience, music students who are specializing in performance also benefit from having these opportunities like Over-the-TOPera.
Ash hopes to perform opera at a professional level. The dynamic between dramatic storytelling and comedy is the highlight of the production. “We’re trying to make [it] over-the-top in the sense that it’s relatable” Ash said.
Blaisdell assists students like Ash and Kibota in selecting pieces to perform, developing characters and designing staging.
“In a concert like this… everyone gets a chance to be the star. When the time comes that they are asked to do a full opera, they will have that experience,” Blaisdell said.
Not all performers in Over-the-TOPera plan to pursue a career in opera performance. “We try to give students opportunities to grow in their areas or major,” Kibota said. “Not everyone gets the chance to produce a solo.”
Blaisdell said that many of his opera students are majoring in music education and that they work very hard to rehearse for this production while also performing in other ensembles, completing school work and taking classes in CWU’s education program.
The funds raised from Over-the-TOPera will support the Opera department in funding materials for stage props to be used in future performances. Xander Fu