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Opera A Truly Rewarding Experience

Observer Scene | Friday, April 18, 2008

I never honestly contemplated the thought that I might one day be in an opera. Like most folks of the artsy persuasion, I did theatre in high school, which meant plays and musicals. I loved singing and dancing on stage, especially musical comedy and I considered Broadway to be the end-all of singing entertainment.

I came to Notre Dame as an intended music major, having not the slightest idea of what I was getting myself into. Suddenly, the choirgirl music theory that had been my saving grace while singing for years was incompetent in the face of Music Theory I, as I was asked to analyze classical pieces in a fashion I had never heard of. I began to understand what it meant to be a true music major here at Notre Dame. And, on a bit of a whim, I tried out for the opera.

I was elated when I got into the opera, but I hadn’t the slightest clue what I was going to be doing. I’d never heard of Faust, not the opera, the man, or anything. I figured it would be a hard-core version of musical theatre, because instead of doing individual songs, we would be singing the whole time. I also had this idea in the back of my head of this archaic art form; of fat ladies in Siegfried horns singing in a language I couldn’t understand.

Rehearsals began in January, as members of the double cast (two people playing each principle role on alternating nights) learned all the individual music. It was quite intimidating to be standing next to seniors who had done this for years, to listen to their golden voices and watch them work. They knew what they were doing, but to me it still sounded like lots of classical music with some English (thank God) words thrown on top. I didn’t believe in it.

Rehearsals with the complete chorus began and the story started taking shape. The classical music began to make more sense in its different settings. An aria was no longer a random song showing off a voice – it had a purpose, it was advancing the story. And what a story it was. I began to realize the complexity of the story of Faust, his deal with the devil, his love for Marguerite and their journey. There is love. There is drama. There is damnation, and the Devil might win.

Last Saturday, during our final rehearsal, before moving into the theatre, I leaned over to the man playing Faust and said, “I really like this music.” He gave me the look of, isn’t-that-obvious? I then said, “No, you see I don’t like classical music … it’s not my thing … and I LOVE this.” The opera was clicking into place and the passion that it radiated was overwhelming. By the end of our final run-through, I was in tears. The music and the story had hit me that hard.

I have never been a part of something so moving, so graceful, or so intrinsically satisfying. “Faust 1859” has everything. There is a love story, a knife fight, temptation, comedy, a grand chorus and the Devil himself. I have spent every rehearsal transfixed backstage, watching in the wings and waiting with bated breath for each new scene. And it only gets more moving as the days go by. I came in as a sworn Broadway baby, but right now, I couldn’t be happier. Opera rocks.

Contact Stephanie DePrez at sdeprez@nd.edu.