News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Students sharpen their singing skills for OperaFest
BY LIANA BAYNE
Want to take your family to Italy, Germany and New York’s West Side this weekend—for free?
Check out the 13th annual OperaFest at the University of Mary Washington on Friday and Saturday nights.
Voice professor Kathryn Ahearn’s 12 students have been singing for six hours per week for the past five weeks during OperaFest. The three-credit course culminates this weekend with performances at George Washington Hall’s Dodd Auditorium.
The singers will perform 12 different operatic scenes in the original languages. The works range from Mozart to “West Side Story” to the French cancan.
This year’s class includes UMW undergraduates and graduate students, a student from James Madison University, local adult performers and one high-schooler from Alexandria.
Ahearn said the singers come from different proficiency levels. They will be singing various scenes from musical works that reflect their abilities.
Eric Wolterding is in his fifth year with OperaFest. A graduate of Mary Washington, he hopes to go to graduate school for music performance and eventually make a career of singing.
“I always learn a lot, and it’s a friendly, no-pressure environment,” he said.
Ahearn said the students have not just been learning about singing, they’ve also been studying acting and costuming. The operatic scenes will be performed onstage in full costume.
“It’ll be fun for people watching,” Ahearn said. “It shows opera is not just Hilda and horns.”
Ahearn said her favorite part of the five-week experience is when students memorize the music and “become one with the character.”
“That’s when they really start to open their souls and sing,” she said. “Singing is such a rewarding surge of joy.”
Isun Malekghassemi, a rising sophomore at UMW double-majoring in music education and English, is participating in OperaFest for the first time this year. She said it has been challenging because this is her first time singing opera.
“It’s experience, and it’s good experience,” she said.
Although Malekghassemi wants to be a high school music teacher, not a professional singer, she said participating in OperaFest was helping to expand her musical vocabulary.
Ahearn said this year’s group of 12 is the smallest the program has ever had in the past 13 years. But she said the group has grown close and the students have been great mentors to one another.
Monica Dionne, who works as a human resources coordinator for Kaeser Compressors, has participated in OperaFest for the past 10 years.
“It’s always something different,” she said. “It’s always fun to see how it comes together each year.”
Ahearn said OperaFest is the only summer voice program in Virginia she knows of.
She conceived the idea of offering OperaFest 13 years ago because she had a similar performance-training experience while she was in college.
Ahearn said many of her students use OperaFest as a springboard toward a professional career.
Wolterding said he hoped participating in OperaFest would help his career path by teaching him performance skills.
“I can feel myself growing more confident every year,” Wolterding said. “It’s hard to act when you’re not confident onstage.”
Ahearn hopes the audience will be large for her students’ performances.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for people who love opera, or for people who have never experienced it,” Ahearn said. “Even kids would like it.”
Malekghassemi was surprised how much she, and others, liked opera once they tried it.
“I would say give opera a chance,” she said. “You don’t have to be snooty and willing to spend $500 for a ticket to appreciate this music.”
WANT TO GO?
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23
Where: UMW’s George Washington Hall, Dodd Auditorium
Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444