Fall 2020 News: Italian Studies

An Afternoon at the Opera

By Rita Paolino

The global pandemic has impacted the lives of all of us; we all know that. Among the many things Covid19 has taken away from us is the possibility to enjoy performing arts in person. In fact, since March 2020, most theaters and opera houses across the country have been closed. Thus, while we could not go to the opera, we were able to bring opera, and more specifically Italian opera, to William and Mary.

Opera is a complex form of art in which music, dance, and theater come together to create the most fascinating experience of all. It takes us to faraway worlds, fascinating cities, tragic and passionate love stories, and cruel lies, all with the beauty of wonderful, catchy, entertaining melodies. Despite its old age, opera music often reflects the sentiments and thoughts of today’s people. The storylines, the characters, and the many facets of the human soul: it is all in opera. Opera is magic and it has been magic since the 1600s, when a group of musicians, intellectuals, artists, and philosophers, the so-called Camerata Fiorentina, created this form of entertainment that aimed to reproduce the perfection and emotional intensity of the Greek drama.

An Afternoon at the OperaA little piece of this magic was brought to our students on October 21, 2020 thanks to the Italian Studies Program. In fact, a zoom event entitled “An afternoon at the Opera”, was held online within the homecoming celebration events. The artistic director of Virginia Opera, Maestro Adam Turner, and two very talented professional singers, Ms. Symone Harcum (soprano) and Ms. Whitney Robinson (mezzo soprano), joined an enthusiastic and interested group of students of Italian to talk about Italian opera and the use of the Italian language in this form of art.

Maestro Turner spoke with the group about the beginning of opera in Italy and how well opera was received once it started spreading in the United States. Nowadays, some of the most prominent world opera houses are in this country, such as The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, The Los Angeles Opera House in Los Angeles, and the Lyric Opera House in Chicago, just to mention a few of them. Yet Italy remains the “country of opera”, thanks to the production of composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and many, many more.

Ms. Robinson and Ms. Harcum spoke with the students about the use Italian in operas, and the challenges of combining the correct pronunciation of a words with its meaning while singing it. The highlight of the event was the opportunity to watch our guests on stage. It was a pure delight to see maestro Turner accompanying at the piano Ms. Harcum, and the singers singing a scene from “Cinderella” by G. Rossini. The event closed with a lively Q&A session.

We all look forward to the day when we can again return to enjoy live performances. In the meantime, we are all thankful to our Virginia Opera guests for allowing our community to grasp a bit of the beauty and magic of Italian opera.