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Summer Workshop To Journey Through 'Inferno'

Aug. 1, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Kim Mathie

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opera students on stage
Opera students routinely perform works in their original languages, with the English translation (supertitles) projected above their heads to aid audiences in understanding the plot. Such will be the case in the upcoming Opera Workshop performance of Gianni Schicchi and Other Lost Souls, playing in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center Aug. 16-18. —Submitted photos


Sam Houston State University opera will present Gianni Schicchi and Other Lost Souls: An operatic journey through Dante’s Inferno, on Aug. 16-17 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 18 at 2:30 p.m. in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center Recital Hall.

The summer production features Puccini’s one-act comic opera Gianni Schicci, as well as related scenes inspired by Dante’s Inferno performed by a cast of 12 vocal performance and music education majors. The cast will be joined by alumnus Heath Martin, who recently graduated from the program and has spent the last year touring with Houston Grand Opera’s outreach program Opera to Go!

Though the SHSU School of Music has not traditionally sponsored a summer opera program, last’s year first workshop project, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, was so well received—by both opera students and audiences alike—that opera workshop director Rebecca Grimes knew she had to do it again, she said.

“It’s such an important experience for our students to continue to learn opera repertoire throughout the summer; the music business is too competitive to be able to take a hiatus,” Grimes said. “We chose Gianni Schicci because Puccini is a composer that most of the students had not performed and the opera has lots of roles that require different types of voices. This is perfect for a college project because there is something for just about everyone who is participating.”

Gianna Schicci is a historical figure, and the opera is based on an actual incident that took place in 13th century Florence, which is mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

A family discovers too late they they’ve been written out of the patriarch’s will, but before anyone else discovers the dead man and the errant will, the family enlists the help of Gianni Schicci, a local schemer, to get the inheritance back. Schicci hatches a plan to impersonate the dead patriarch and dictate a new will, but instead of leaving it to the family, Schicci leaves all the money to himself.

For a one-act opera, Gianna Schicci presents numerous challenges for undergraduate singers. The opera is written in Italian, and students must not only understand the language they are singing, but must understand the style of comedy they are performing.

“Unlike older operas, this opera's comedy lies primarily in the irony of what is being said, rather than a physical or slapstick comedy,” Grimes said. “This means that the students have to understand every word that is being sung—not just their lines but that of all the other characters on stage; otherwise, the comedy isn't effective. That presents a huge challenge to anyone who is performing this piece.”

While the workshop’s primary purpose is to provide an important performing experience for opera students, it’s a unique one for Huntsville audiences, according to Grimes.

“It was Puccini's only comedy. Puccini was afraid to venture outside of the genre that made him famous—tragic, verismo opera—which is too bad,” Grimes said. “Gianni Schicchi has stood the test of time because it is so well written; both the music and the dialogue is a masterful work of efficiency, and there is a lot of material delivered in just 45 minutes of opera. I think Puccini would have been just as successful if he had written more comedies.”

Preceding Puccini’s work is a short program of opera scenes that offer an operatic glimpse into Dante’s idea of purgatory and highlights various sins and sinners in the operatic repertoire. Featured scenes include music from Massenet’s Werther, Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Donizetti’s L’elixir d’amore, and Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. All music is sung in the original language with supertitles.

Gianni Schicchi and Other Lost Souls: An operatic journey through Dante’s Inferno is directed by Rebecca Grimes, with musical direction by Robert Hunt and Roger Keele. The performance features SHSU voice students Josaphat Contreras, Albert Donze, Lindsey Fuson, Sarah Garcia, John Jermain, Bryanna Johnson, Shelby Murphy, Ardeen Pierre, Rachel Rodriguez, Nick Szoeke, Rene Vazquez, Nicole Wallace and Mikhail Smigelski, along with Martin.

Tickets are $15 for general admission and $5 for students and can be purchased by calling the GPAC Box Office at 936.294.2339.



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