Every year Luther College Music performs two operatic performances. Musicians offered the Spring Opera to the Luther College community on May 9-10, and friends and I attended the latter performance. This year, two one-act operas, music by Giacomo Puccini and libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, highlighted the Nordic Choir singers who have aspirations of singing professionally in operas. Most of the actors were seniors. I easily immersed myself in the operas, listening to the sung English translation and Chamber Orchestra and watching the actors’ interactions. However, during the second opera, Gianni Schicchi, I realized that not only I was bored by these actors and their voices but also that this wasn’t the first time I became disillusioned by a director’s choice of actors.
My small, rural, public high school’s Thespians put on a Broadway musical every other year. The advisors to the Thespians repeatedly gave lead roles to their favorite students, and the vocal ranges of those favorites seemed to determine what musical or plays the Thespians performed. Over the years, the actors’ particular ticks didn’t change, and their vocal training didn’t significantly improve their voices’ maturity or range over the course of four years. For example, one gregarious young woman always bent at her hips when trying to convey an emotionally charged moment to the audience. (I spent from 8th through 12th grade building sets and managing the flats that made up the set and the stage lighting, inadvertently positioning myself to be present at many rehearsals and all performances.) By the time my brother was a senior, and I in 9th grade, I cynically but accurately guessed the characters portrayed by each of the main actors.
Similarly, the leads in the Spring Opera have been consistently chosen for prominent roles by professors through auditions for choir solos, class operas, J term musicals, Theatre/Drama musicals, and other Spring and Fall Operas. As most of them are seniors, I’ve watched them perform for eight semesters – my entire tenure at Luther. Yes, their voices have improved through coaching by their choir directors and studio professors. Yes, they are better able to balance between physically acting and musically singing, portraying a wider range of emotions. However, only a few voices are affirmed as legitimate musically – these opera singers’ voices. The music department’s repeated emphasis on one particular sound and the select people with that sound, regardless of marked improvement or specific operatic training, annoyed me during the performance. By the end of the operas, I lost musical interest in the operas.
I’m attending one of the better musical liberal arts colleges in the region. I’m caught between wanting better performances and legitimizing other than one particular set of trained singers. Either way, these operas delivered the same set of singer/actors that have consistently performed throughout the past four years. I’m ready for something new.