Opera teaches lessons in life and career for UWM music students

Colleen Brooks believes her UWM students are learning many lessons, from the business side to the artistic, by staging a classic opera production like “La Clemenza di Tito.”

“We are truly studying the human experience,” said Brooks, visiting assistant professor and producer of “La Clemenza di Tito.” “Hopefully we can take from our study of art, history and our stories some lessons and tools that can help us communicate more efficiently into our future.”

On April 5 and 6, Peck School of the Arts and Milwaukee Opera Theatre will stage a production of Mozart’s penultimate opera,“La Clemenza di Tito.” Over 60 students will be helping or performing in the production, with a few alumni coming back to join the cast.

“I’ve always had an interest in operas despite never being in one except for freshman year. It’s always been something I wanted to pursue,” UWM music student Emilia Peterson said. Peterson is the stage manager and member of the chorus in “La Clemenza di Tito.”

Every two years

Opera productions with orchestral accompaniment are put on by the music department every two years, most recently “La Perichole” in 2017.

For this year’s production, Brooks thought it was time to do a more well-known, classic opera. The production team discussed it with Jill Anna Ponasik, producing artistic director of Milwaukee Opera Theatre, and settled on “La Clemenza di Tito.”

“Young singers have so many opportunities to sing alone,” said Ponasik, “and relatively few to feel the power that comes from small ensembles like duets and trios.”

The opera has two alternating casts for the lead roles (except for the role of Tito) to allow more students the opportunity to take on a starring role.

“No one will hire you if you don’t have the reputation of being able to do larger roles,” said Megan McCarthy, music master’s student at UWM and one of the leads for the opera.

Staging this opera will help students gain crucial skills for their professional musical careers, Brooks said, including how to market and promote a production, build a sense of dramatic intention and network with people already in the industry.

“Learning the important skill of networking is how careers come to pass, it seems,” Brooks said.

Working with professionals

One student notes that one of the best things about being part of the opera so far is working with Ponasik. In addition to her work with the Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Ponasik is also artistic associate for Skylight Music Theatre.

“A lot of colleges don’t give that experience of getting to work with people in the actual professional field,” Peterson said.

UWM Peck School of the Arts 2018 alum Emanuel Camacho will perform both nights in the titular role of Tito.

“When we’ve had opportunities on our season that were well matched with young singers, we’ve created apprenticeships in the past, and that’s what we did this year,” Ponasik said. “It has been a joy having them with us this season.”

Camacho is part of the informal apprentice program at the Milwaukee Opera Theatre that nurtures young talent in their professional artistic careers.

“We try to give our current students what they need,” Brooks said, “and when we have extra opportunities, we pull from our alumni first.”

Costumes by Leslie Vaglica

This opera will feature new costumes specifically designed for the cast by Leslie Vaglica, who has done costume design for many professional companies around Milwaukee.

“That was something really exciting for us because it’s something that we have not had here,” Brooks said.

The new costumes are provided by the Yolanda Marculescu fund, named after a former UWM voice faculty member. Next year the fund will start awarding scholarships to students pursuing a voice-focused music degree.

There will be supertitles near the stage to translate the song lyrics and also give historical and comedic commentary on the happenings on stage. The supertitles are courtesy of Danny Brylow, company manager of Milwaukee Opera Theatre.

The opera “La Clemenza di Tito” will be performed on April 5 and 6 at Helen Bader Concert Hall in the Zelazo Center for Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. The UWM Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Maestro Jun Kim.

Anyone who wants to donate to the Yolanda Marculescu Scholarship Fund can do so online. From the “designation” pulldown menu, select Peck School of the Arts; from the “fund” pulldown, select Marculescu Voice Scholarship Fund.

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