Anchorage Opera Company aids UAA singers

When you think Anchorage, the last thing that usually comes to mind is opera. The UAA Opera Ensemble, however, is working to change that with its new apprenticeship program with the Anchorage Opera Company.
“This is the first [apprenticeship program] of its kind in North America at an undergraduate level,” said Director Mari Hahn, who has been one of the visionary forces behind this new project.
The apprenticeship is a class offered to voice majors and others at UAA that involves working with trained professionals in the Anchorage Opera Company, professionals from outside the state and hands-on lessons with UAA instructors. This is also an undergraduate program, meaning that anyone without a degree can still enroll.
Torrie Allen came to manage the Anchorage Opera Company in August of 2007, and one flaw he quickly spotted was a lack of communication between UAA’s voice and music talent and the opera company.
“One of the first things that occurred to me when I came up here was that there didn’t seem to be a lot of connection between the university and the opera [company],” Allen said. “And I thought there has got to be ways that we could work together and strengthen the relationship.”
Allen said that working with the UAA Opera Ensemble has benefited his company by increasing the pool of talented singers within Alaska, making it viable to bring in local talent instead of singers from outside Alaska.
Another advantage of this partnership is the advanced tutoring and help that all the students involved receive.
As a main part of the class, auditions were held for an operatic arrangement called “Viva Zarzuela.”
This is not a single opera, but a collection of ten total pieces arranged in the Spanish operatic style of Zarzuela. This style is a much shorter form of opera, allowing the students a lot of variation in their performance. The longest piece is a political statement titled “La Gran Via”(The Big Street) by Federico Chueca.
“The UAA voice majors have really blossomed and risen to the occasion of [Viva Zarzuela] because it is a much more high profile event than in previous years because Viva Zarzuela is part of the Anchorage Opera season and they’ve publicized it that way,” Hahn said. “Because of this, we’re already about 80 percent sold out for all of the four shows that we’re doing.”
With the show opening on Thursday, April 16, the students have been hard pressed to memorize staging and songs, plus learning how to sing in Spanish so that it actually sounds like a Spanish dialect. But now that the Anchorage Opera Company is helping out, the Opera Ensemble was able to bring in professional opera coach Richard Gordon from New York who spent three weeks teaching the students how to sing the Zarzuelas properly.
The extra instruction definitely shows in the student’s singing. Their pronunciation is perfect and even carries over to when they are not even performing. It is a musical treat to listen to them. Some clumsy execution of blocking in rehearsal, however, occasionally is a reminder that these are singers, not actor. Hopefully by opening night, everything will be smoothed out.
The UAA Opera Ensemble will only be putting on four performances, running from April 16 to April 19. General admission is $15 and the first three shows start at 7:30 p.m. while Sunday’s performance is at 4:30 p.m.
This is the launching of a brand new partnership, and already improvement already can be seen because of it. Hopefully, UAA and the Anchorage Opera Company will continue their partnership in the future.