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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

My name is Lea and I'm an operaholic!

Lea is taking our Summer Adult Education Class.  We asked Lea to tell us about her experience throughout the class.  Enjoy!


I have a confession to make: My name is Lea and I'm an operaholic. Feed me opera morning, noon, and night and I'm ecstatic . So when Portland Opera announced they were teaching a summer class, I jumped at the opportunity to enroll, so I could be surrounded by fellow opera addicts like myself. This isn't your everyday Opera Appreciation class, however. It's an interactive class called "How Does an Opera Get on its Feet?"

The teacher is Alexis "I am not a musicologist" Hamilton. For someone who is not a musicologist, she knows an enormous amount about opera, both from an academic perspective and as a performer. Alexis has a luscious deep mezzo singing voice which can melt your heart. She also has an extraordinary amount of energy, and during our first class she brought a summary of 600 years of opera to life.

Alexis Hamilton, Portland Opera's Manager of Education and Outreach - Photo taken during last summer's Adult Education Class.

During our second class we focused on libretti. How are they written? What are the challenges involved? To help us understand this, Alexis invited the esteemed singer/actor/teacher/composer/musician   John Vergin to class. They spoke about the concerns of the librettist, such as the dramatic intent, the purpose and mood, the characterizations and voice types, and recitatives vs arias.

In putting together an opera, which comes first, the music or the words? I was surprised to learn that in traditional classical opera, it's
usually the words. It's not like our conception of Rodgers and Hammerstein working together at the piano, with Rodgers plunking out a tune, Hammerstein coming up with some lyrics, and then presto, "Getting to Know You."

To the contrary, the opera usually starts with the librettists, who set the scene, tell the story, and even provide stage directions. Then they give their work to the composer, who criticizes, requests changes, and then composes the music.

And now it was our turn: to write a libretto ourselves, based on a Greek myth that was given to us before class. The good news was that we would work in groups to come up with dialogue. The bad news was that we only had 40 minutes to figure it out. Fortunately I was part of a brilliant group who channeled our anxiety to come up with a decent first draft. We had no time to revise or improve it, but we did it! My classmate summed up this adrenalin-heightening experience well. "It was actually kind of fun," he noted, " in a twisted way."

Now it's John's turn to spend the week reading our dialogues, turning them into a cohesive libretto, and setting the whole thing to music. Next week, professional singers will come to class and sing it for us, letting us know what worked, what didn't, and why. I can't wait to hear what they've come up with. Will it be a success or an embarrassing fiasco? I'll let you know!

Yours operatically,

Click on the 'summer opera class' link below to read the rest of Lea's blogs about our interactive opera class.  

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