The acid test of a music school is its opera program. That’s because opera is expensive, hard to get right, and brings together so many moving parts. It requires singing at the highest level, of course, but it also demands a serious orchestra and the non-musical requirements (sets, costumes, lighting and stage movement) associated with the theater.
So it’s gratifying to see opera steadily take on more prominence at the Georgia State University School of Music. This will be the 30th season the school has operated its Harrower Summer Opera Workshop, and this year it features a record 77 students, an impressive faculty and staged performances of some of the most interesting operas being done by anyone in Atlanta.
For students, the workshop officially started May 27. They’re working with voice coaches and attending classes related to singing, acting and movement. And they’ll be putting together opera performances, providing local opera fans with some of the most interesting opportunities of the whole season.
According to Carroll Freeman, the GSU professor who heads the institute, the ages of the students range from 18 to the late 30s. “Opera voices are like cheese and fine wine,” said Freeman. “They take time to develop.”
On Tuesday, June 11, at 7 p.m., the workshop will perform three one-act operas by Milton Granger: “Benedicta,” “Angry Birdsong” and “The Proposal.” All three are apparently Atlanta premieres, and they will be presented, fully staged, at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, available at the door. Granger is known for his work as a Broadway pianist and conductor, and his operas have been widely performed.
This year is the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth, and Wednesday, June 12, will be given over to a sampling of scenes from his works. Britten, the most celebrated English opera composer of the 20th century, wrote in a distinct, haunting, atmospheric style. The workshop will present scenes from “Albert Herring,” a comedy; “Peter Grimes,” Britten’s best-known work; “The Rape of Lucretia,” a fine chamber opera; and “The Turn of the Screw,” a nicely wrought ghost story. This program is free and will take place at noon in the lobby of the Rialto Center for the Arts.
On June 14 at 8 p.m. and June 15 at 3 p.m., the workshop will present Kurt Weill’s beloved opera “Street Scene,” with a libretto by Langston Hughes based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Elmer Rice. Like “Porgy and Bess” and “West Side Story,” it is something of a hybrid, both an opera and a Broadway musical. Weill’s jazz-inflected score is contagious and nicely rendered. It will be performed in Kopleff Recital Hall on the GSU campus. For this performance, there will be a large orchestra (more than 30 instruments) from GSU’s orchestra program. Tickets are $20 at the door, or $10 for students.
On June 15 at 8 p.m. and June 16 at 3 p.m., the students will perform Offenbach’s popular operetta “Tales of Hoffman” in Kopleff Recital Hall. Admission is $20, or $10 for students.
An event of special interest is the Gala Opening Dinner, to be held Sunday, June 9, at 103 West restaurant. Guest artist Frederica Von Stade will perform a concert, and the dinner will be preceded by a silent auction.
Mezzo-soprano Von Stade is one of the most celebrated opera singers of our time. Having largely retired from the opera stage, she continues to be in great demand as a concert artist, and her fans (including this writer) are among the most dedicated in the opera universe. Tickets for the gala begin at $120.
Von Stade will also teach two master classes, and both are open to the public. The first will be Monday, June 10, at 2 p.m., the second on June 11 at a time not finalized at this writing (check with the school). For the serious opera fan, master classes are an opportunity to learn about the craft from a great artist.
Any opera fan, regardless of experience level, will enjoy the performances at this institute. And though the singers are all students, they are at a very high level. For details and locations, visit the institute’s website or call 404-413-5901. The site also provides directions to the various venues and information on parking.