Pick of the Week

A Taste of Opera

My first exposure to opera was as a child listening to the Metropolitan Opera's live broadcasts on the radio. Carmen, Aida and Figaro routinely sang in our kitchen, coming out of the little transistor by the stove.

While my mother smiled at every high note and was saddened by the characters dying in each other's arms, I wondered what was going on and what these people were singing.

Years later, opera isn't as much of a mystery to me as it once was. A little research on the Internet can provide you with the history, plot, act summaries and characters of operas. And now, it all sounds more beautiful since my ears have gotten older.

But if you didn't have a mother who tuned in to the Met and relished her vinyl opera records, Pima Community College hopes you'll get a chance to "whet your appetite for opera" this weekend. The Performing Arts Department presents OperaPima Opera Scenes in the Center for the Arts Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Performances take place at 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10. Tickets are $6 general admission; $5 students, seniors and PCC affiliates. Call 206-6986 or e-mail centerforthearts@pima.edu for information.

Under the musical direction of Dean Schoff and stage direction of his wife, Anna Schoff, OperaPima Opera Scenes is in its fifth season. This performance features selections from eight operas: Carmen, Don Pasquale, The Marriage of Figaro, La Traviata, The Tales of Hoffman, Cosí fan Tutte, Amahl and the Night Visitors and Werther. Selections from two musicals--Into the Woods and Company--are also on the schedule. A special guest visitor--not disclosed--will also appear.

Dean Schoff has sung in the major opera houses of Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Scandinavia. He has performed with renowned conductors Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Leopold Stokowski. Now in his fifth year at Pima, Scoff says the quality of singing in his program is outstanding.

"OperaPima grew out of an opera workshop. It's a class (officially titled Opera Theater Workshop) where young singers and artists can learn the art form of opera. We work on singing technique, stage work, acting and all aspects of working on stage as a singer."

Schoff explains that singing on stage is different from acting with dialogue. "Opera is a very highly choreographed art form. Every move has meaning and purpose. It's important how we move on the stage. (We teach students) how to build a character and how to be a convincing character, as opposed to being who they are. ... We help them build a character from the bottom up."

Currently, there are 25 people enrolled in the Opera Theater Workshop. They range in age from 10 to 60 and include singers from the Arizona Opera Chorus. Schoff says students repeatedly take the workshop, with some at their fifth go-around.

"They keep coming back. They want an opportunity to have a performing outlet. ... We are building a real performance base with our group."

Schoff says the students work one afternoon a week in a three-hour class. "Our goal is to help develop young artists to be able to grow and have support in what they are doing."

A goal for OperaPima is to "work on doing a full production of an opera." A date for that has not been set at this time.

With several operas chosen for each performance, Schoff explains the selection process depends on the students in the class. "We see who we have, and then we (determine) what will fit the voices we have. Students are required to come to the table with some ideas."

The operas chosen for this weekend's performance are standard operas with scenes chosen that are larger in context. With more of a story line, six or seven people may be involved in a scene as opposed to one or two. Performances will have different castings so that all of the students will have an opportunity to sing.

As for the musicals, both Into the Woods and Company have scores written by Stephen Sondheim. "We often use musicals from Stephen Sondheim," says Schoff. "They have very highly developed characters. You can do so much on stage with them."

With passionate story lines of love and betrayal in many operas, it is no wonder that the students get caught up in the passion themselves.

"They are doing what they love," says Schoff. "We are always working toward more joy for the singer and the audience. ... People think they need to know something special to (attend the opera). But if you see the way the passion comes through ... you are watching people who are doing what they love to do. And that tells a great story."

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