I have written in previous blog posts about one of my main projects this semester: an in-person presentation of Samuel Barber’s often-neglected opera, Vanessa, with the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra. This past week brought the culmination of this tremendously fulfilling project. The event was quite momentous, as it was our school’s first in-person performance featuring vocals to have a limited live audience since the pandemic.
The conductor and reduced orchestra were all masked, as were the singers whenever we were not singing, and the audience was masked and very far from each other and the stage. Lyric Theatre faculty and other members of Mike McAndrew’s dissertation committee occupied closer rows of the limited audience. In the balcony were fellow students from the Lyric Theatre department who were able to attend via a sign-up. It was truly amazing to have the support of these music community members and to share the culmination of our hard work with them.
I was very inspired by Mike McAndrew’s talk before the presentation. He talked about the show’s relevance to his life and how he developed an interest in the opera for his dissertation. The history of the opera is quite interesting; it won a Pulitzer prize, but many factors prevented it from being incorporated into standard operatic repertoire (apart from a few arias). Mike’s dissertation details how he reduced the score and libretto for the opera so that it can be more accessible for university programs to mount. I am so glad Mike took on this project because it allowed me and other young singers to encounter roles that are quite beautiful and challenging. I am so happy I can say the role of the Old Doctor is in my repertoire; I think it is a unique role that many singers could not put on their resumé. The performance itself felt wonderful as our hard work with the orchestra came together in a very polished and inspired presentation. I was so grateful for the commitment of the conductor, Todd Craven, my fellow singers, the orchestra, and of course, Mike, for putting together a safe and inspiring production in the Foellinger Great Hall after such a long hiatus.