College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

University Opera Hits All the Right Notes

Indistinct chatter and the occasional laugh could be heard outside the cold, steel doors of Meek Auditorium. Inside, about a dozen girls sat in reclining seats with their feet propped up and their hair in high ponytails. Slowly, the girls began singing operatic scales. As time progressed, the sound rose louder and louder.

“Alright, ladies, let’s begin,” professor Julia Aubrey said. Aubrey directs upcoming operas “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi.”

Aubrey said they are different from anything she has done before; these are the first operas in which the University of Mississippi’s theatre arts and music departments have combined.

“It’s a collaboration in that we are a part of their season,”Aubrey said. “It’s much easier in that I don’t have to build the set. They take care of the costumes and some of the publicity.”

“Everybody has different strengths,” Claire Taylor, a second-year graduate student who will play the lead in “Suor Angelica,” said. “With these operas, I think we get the best of both departments.”

But Taylor and Aubrey are not the only ones who benefit.

Even graduate assistant David Walton admits the partnership was a perfect match.

“Working with the theatre department has been quite productive,” Walton said. “(It has given) performance opportunities for both departments as well as sharing the set, costumes and music rehearsals. Both departments have benefited tremendously from the teamwork.”

“(The theatre arts department) has in-house faculty who do light design, set design and costume design, so that is much easier,” Aubrey said.

In addition to basic logistics, “Suor Angelica” proved to be quite a challenge performance- wise. According to Taylor, the performers rehearse at least four days a week for about an hour and 45 minutes.

“Everyone in both casts is required to dedicate much time out of each week for learning the music, staging and blocking scenes,” Walton said. “Our director, Mrs. Aubrey, and voice coach, Ms. Johnston, have been planning and preparing for this production the entire year. The student cast has been involved since auditions at the beginning of November 2009.”

Aubrey said that performers were allowed to take their roles home over Christmas break in order to really learn them. However, she also said that just within the last seven weeks the performers actually started to work with the music.

Aubrey, excited about the prospect of each opera, took the role of director in stride despite her immense workload.

“Well, I do three operas a year,” she said. “So if you don’t know how to handle that kind of stress, you have to learn to negotiate around that.”

Even Taylor, who is no stranger to operas, admitted she is both nervous and excited.

“It’s beautiful music and a beautiful story, but there are always nerves,” she said.

“Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi” will be performed April 22 through April 24 in Meek Hall Auditorium. Tickets are $15 for each performance and are available at the UM Box Office.