Sinister sorceress (Haily Watson) sings a dramatic number while surrounded by her evil entourage during the first act, “Dido and Aeneas.” This year’s opera comprises two one-act performances: the classic Greek tragedy followed by the fast-paced comedy “Gianni Schicchi.”
Photos by Milan Loiacono
Pepperdine’s spring opera highlights student talent with a dynamic string of two one-act performances opening Feb. 27. Presented by The Flora L. Thornton Opera Program, the two works, the Baroque “Dido and Aeneas” and comedic Italian opera “Gianni Schicchi,” showcase the range of the Pepperdine opera program.
“Come for the drama, stay for the comedy!” sophomore Jack Gerding said. “The first show is 55 minutes, the second show is 55 minutes — then you’re out of there with a really great experience.”
Gerding, a Music major, plays the titular character Gianni Schicchi.
“Schicchi” is his second opera performance, as he previously appeared in last year’s on-campus production of “Die Fledermaus.”
Set in 1950s Italy, “Gianni Schicchi” is a fast-paced, comical tale following a family in turmoil after they realize their deceased relative left his fortune to the church.
“It’s really interesting to see a situation which, theoretically, could happen today, but set in a different time period,” senior and vocal ornamentation coach Emma Ujifusa said.
“Gianni Schicchi” stands out from other shows because of its lack of an ensemble. Ujifusa said almost the entire cast of “Schicchi” is on stage for the majority of the show, providing an extensive learning experience for students.
“Every character has their own nuance and their own backstory — there’s no one who’s really forgettable,” Gerding said.
The more dramatic of the two, the Baroque opera “Dido and Aeneas” follows the marriage between two Greek monarchs. Based on Virgil’s “The Aeneid,” sophomore Voice major Clara Darlington said “Dido” is fit with a larger cast and a heavier storyline.
“[‘Dido’]’s really intense,” Darlington said. “It is interesting because the two casts are very different. I think [the cast of] ‘Schicchi’ had the chance to be close just because it’s smaller. ‘Dido’ is very much drama. … ‘Dido,’ it’s gonna be your classic opera. When people think about opera, they think of shows like ‘Dido.'”
The process for selecting the works begins a year before opening night. Opera Director Keith Colclough said he narrows down pieces to find works that will highlight the skillsets of the students. This performance, Colclough said, has focused mainly on student collaboration.
“It’s been a lot less one-on-one or, like, it’s a duet coaching and a lot more ensemble work,” he said. “We also have a student choreographer, a student chorus master, and then we even have a student who’s working as our ornamentation coach … adding ornaments is an expected part of the genre, and it’s very specific vocabulary for English baroque opera.”
Ujifusa said Pepperdine shows are unique because of their excellent production quality.
“You remember what you see, maybe even more than what you hear, so the fact that we have such incredible people working behind the scenes really helps to elevate the quality of the whole production,” Ujifusa said.
Senior Bethany Adamski, a lead in “Dido and Aeneas,” said it is important for Pepperdine students to experience opera. The student performers in the opera spend months of preparing and working to bring the show together.
“We have spent this semester on our feet and learning the history behind the music, the composer and the story,” Adamski said. “I think going to see opera, in general, is part of being a well-rounded, cultured individual.”
Opening night for the opera is Thursday, Feb. 27, followed by a second performance Saturday, Feb. 29. Tickets cost $20 and are available online and at the box office.
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