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Interdisciplinary Workshop To 'Pardon' The French

Nov. 21, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Kim Mathie

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National Opera in Lyon, FranceThe SHSU Opera Workshop will present “Pardon My French!,” a collection of scenes from well-known French operas sung in their original language with English supertitles on Friday (Nov. 30) and Saturday (Dec. 1) beginning at 7:30 p.m. each day in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center Recital Hall.

The program, directed by Rebecca Renfro Grimes with musical direction by Robert Hunt, will challenge 19 vocal performance and music education majors.

“Most singers feel intimidated about singing in French,” said Grimes, director of the Opera Workshop. “It’s one of the more challenging languages to sing in because it’s very exacting in its syntax and pronunciation.

“Where Italian opera typically has a rhyme scheme, French opera often doesn’t; it’s very conversational, which makes it more difficult,” she said. “The language is considered more important than the music.”

In order to perfect the syntax and pronunciation, all singers take classes on how to pronounce foreign languages; however, this semester they’ve received extra help with voice and language coach Roger Keele.

“Roger comes to French as a fluent speaker, and he helps the students approach the language from that perspective,” said Grimes. “The students are being immersed in French on a much more sophisticated level.”

The program includes scenes from Manon by Massenet, Lakmé by Delibes, Roméo et Juliette by Gounod, Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Orphée aux enfers by Offenbach, La Fille du Régiment by Donizetti, Dialogues des Carmélites by Poulenc, and Carmen by Bizet.

“I hope this will be a learning experience for the opera students and that at the end of this project, they will be much more comfortable in the idiom.” Grimes said. “It’s music that’s worth putting out there.”

Having established a history of intra-departmental collaboration to enhance her programs, Grimes once again draws in talent from the dance and mass communication departments to present a program in the spirit of what Richard Wagner often referred to as Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art.

“Wagner conceived of opera as an all-encompassing art form: visual, musical and theatrical,” Grimes said. “You have to approach opera from that perspective, so the more I collaborate, the more our students learn, and the more relevant opera becomes.”

Utilizing the talents of graduate dance student Amy Wright and mass communication major Jonathan Kinsey, Grimes builds on the French theme with the addition of mimes and French café music.

Choreographed by Wright, dancers dressed as mimes will appear between scenes to explain what’s happening next. Like the translation of the music lyrics, their dialogue will appear as supertitles.

“Amy is an extremely talented dancer and choreographer. I always enjoy collaborating with her; whatever wacky idea I come up with she’s willing to try,” Grimes said. “With her vision and talent the end result is always better than I imagined.”

Providing the soundtrack for the dancers is Kinsey, who specializes in sound design.

“The three of us (Grimes, Wright and Kinsey) picked out music we thought would evoke the feeling of a Paris café, and he’s treating it so it sounds like a vintage recording, like it’s being played on an old record player,” Grimes said. “These students are brilliant; I just do my best to get out of their way!”

Grimes has built the success of the opera program by combining non-traditional elements with a very traditional opera score. For The Magic Flute, Grimes used photographs taken by art students projected onto a screen to establish the scenes settings. Last spring, in her “Opera Incognito” program, Grimes used original film clips created by mass communication film student Sam Sanchez to transition between scenes.

“We’re really lucky because the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication has so many talented people across the board, and students are eager to have these collaborative experiences,” she said. “They are very generous with their time and talent. I’ve learned so much by working with them.”

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and $5 for SHSU students.

To make reservations, contact the GPAC Box Office at 936.294.2339 or to buy online visit http://bit.ly/RvTnRc.



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