- Resident Artists
Logan is taking our Summer Opera Education Class: "Putting it Together." We asked her to share her experiences throughout this 8-week interactive class. Updates will be posted weekly. Enjoy!
This past week, our class libretto for the story of Antigone was set to music, composed incredibly in less than one week by the talented John Vergin! Tonight, our words and John Vergin’s music came to life, thanks to the brilliant performances of two Portland Opera Resident Artists, mezzo-soprano alumni Hannah Penn as Ismene, King Creon, and the Guard; and Caitlin Mathes as Antigone, with Mr. Vergin himself on piano.
Composer John Vergin
It’s one thing to read a libretto, and it’s another to hear it sung with piano! We were able to hear everything twice: once with all four scenes sung straight through and once scene-by-scene with a discussion in between. Listening to our mini-opera straight through was truly amazing because we could hear how Mr. Vergin was able to string together four libretti (each written in different styles by different groups of people) into one coherent mini-opera. Hannah Penn and Caitlin Mathes embodied their characters and sang beautifully from beginning to end.
Front: Guest-blogger Logan Stewart
Rear (l-r): John Vergin, Hannah Penn, Caitlin Mathes
After the initial hearing of our mini-opera, we broke it down a little and talked about each scene after hearing them again individually. This time, we paid more attention to the subtext of each section. Not only did we listen closer to what Hannah and Caitlin were singing, but also to the motifs and dissonance in the piano. For example, Mr. Vergin wrote the score in unusual modes (ie: Dorian, Phrygian, etc.), which is most likely how the score would have been written in the era of the story (ancient Greece). This could be difficult for modern singers, who are used to singing in major and minor (or Ionian and Aeolian). Because he used unusual modes, it created a sense of uneasiness and dissonance when two characters were having an argument. An example of subtext from the singers is the color and bravura dynamic between the two singers. Hannah Penn is a darker mezzo-soprano, whereas Cailtin Mathes is a lighter mezzo-soprano. Both were able to show off their abilities by making their voices sound heavier and harsher when their characters were angry, and by adding a thoughtful lilt and softness when they were contemplative. Both also had lyrical phrases and a couple of runs that contrasted nicely. It is almost impossible to describe how a singer with a superficial interpretation becomes a performer with a deeper subtext, but our performers tonight were magnificent and added a new level of insight and interpretation to our libretto.
As a class, we had many questions for our performers and composer, such as “Was it hard to sing the words we wrote?” or “How would this sound in a different voice type?” etc. I loved the discussion and the insight each individual brought to the table. Everyone had a hunger to know more and to delve into the minds of our professional musicians. One of my favorite discussions was how Antigone would be interpreted if the cast had only female voices, and comparing female voice types for different roles ie: lyric mezzo-soprano versus coloratura soprano.
It was an insightful evening full of beautiful music and poetic words that we ourselves wrote! I can’t wait for what next week has in store!