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Vocal, String Students Present College's First Fully Staged Opera

Vocal, String Students Present College's First Fully Staged Opera

Posted: May 1, 2019

Holly Bewlay, Buffalo State associate professor of music, wanted to give students in her newly created Vocal Chamber Music course a challenge. It was an ambitious one and a first for the college—perform an opera.

The students are joining forces with the college’s String Chamber Ensemble to produce Henry Purcell’s seventeenth-century opera Dido and Aeneas. They will present the free performance on Wednesday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Ciminelli Recital Hall at Rockwell Hall.

“It is my understanding that this is the first fully staged opera production in the history of Buffalo State,” said Bewlay, the opera’s musical director and producer. “We currently do not have an opera program, so I wanted to give the students the opportunity to learn and perform a short chamber opera.”

Indeed, the three-act Dido and Aeneas tells an intricate story within an hour. The libretto, written by Nahum Tate, recounts the love Dido, queen of Carthage, has for the Trojan hero Aeneas and her despair when he abandons her.

Thirteen vocal students, four string students, and two professional musicians participate in the performance that will be sung in English (the opera’s original language). The singers are enrolled in Vocal Chamber Music, which began this spring and is part of the Music Department’s new performance concentration.  

“I thought understanding the larger work would help students interpret the arias/duets/trios completely,” Bewlay said. “They’ve learned how to sing without a conductor in a chamber setting as well as how to lead and follow as a singer, musician, and character. It’s different than just singing an individual solo piece with an accompanist or singing in a choir with a conductor.”

Several other faculty members are contributing to the production: Joseph Spann, lecturer of music who also is a trained opera director; Carol Beckley, associate professor of theater who is handling the technical part of the performance; Janz Costelo, lecturer of music and director of the String Ensemble; and Ivan Docenko, faculty accompanist who will play the harpsichord. In addition, Bewlay tapped local musician Nancy Nuzzo to play the viola da gamba.

“I am hoping to connect with both the campus and Buffalo community as we are using music, language, and movement to express the human emotion by telling this ancient story,” Bewlay said. “The students are very excited to produce this ambitious work.”

For more information, visit the Buffalo State Music Department.

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