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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Singers, actors present ‘What’s Opera, Duck?’

Nora Olabi - Whats Opera Duck

Singers, actors and performers joined Buck Ross, the Moores Opera Center director, in the 5th annual “What’s Opera, Duck?” Tuesday evening at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck. | Nora Olabi/The Daily Cougar

A spotlight shone on the stage of the candlelit bar as singers performed classic show tunes and operatic arias.

The troupe of musicians from the Moores Opera Center descended onto McGonigel’s Mucky Duck on Tuesday for the fifth annual “What’s Opera, Duck?” which included 35 student singers, two accompanists, a voice teaching assistant and opera director Buck Ross.

“We like the informality of the venue. It puts everyone at ease, both the audience and the performers,” Ross said. “It gives a chance to see our performers up close and to also meet the new up-and-coming stars of the program.”

Though many of the singers had performed at McGonigel’s, the experience of performing as a classically-trained singer in a pub was radically different for Alphonso Seals, a first-year graduate student of vocal performance.

“I’ve actually never performed in a bar before. It puts you in a different perspective of everything and I think, with people being so close, it’s a more interactive experience between the singer and the audience,” Seals said.

“I think it takes the steam off of being extremely perfect — being able to share my voice with other people so they can be able to see who I am as a singer.”

For Nicole Woodward, an alumna of the graduate program in vocal performance pursuing her performance certificate in voice, “What’s Opera, Duck?” was a great tool to “see opera singers let their hair down” and further the art form through outreach.

“When people think of opera, they tend to think of the stuffy person — who’s not acting on stage, who’s like 500 pounds and singing very loudly — and it might be beautiful, but there’s nothing modern about it, and that’s just not the case,” Woodward said.

“I think people get a chance to see that when they come out to events like this. We are average people. We’re not 600 pounds, without emotions; we’re all storytellers.”

For Grace Brooks, a voice TA for the opera center and a doctoral student in vocal performance, this event was more than just having a great time, it was about extending Moores’ community outreach through casual productions.

“When they’re on the opera stage with the set and the makeup and the orchestra, they’re removed from the public,” Brooks said.

“So this is an opportunity to sort of get up close and personal with the singers. While we love all the glamour of the costumes, the sets, the lights and the orchestra, there’s something very honest about a simple performance in a small space.”

Compared to traditional opera house productions where audiences are expected to follow strict theater etiquette, guests were able to react to the performers. For Rameen Chaharbaghi, giving that breathing room to the audience made performing more enjoyable.

“What I love is the same thing that caused them to laugh, which is it’s much less formal. I think people should treat opera a little bit more like modern rock concerts,” Chaharbaghi said.

“If somebody does something you really love, you should be able to ‘whoo!’ That’s part of the reason why I think so many people don’t want to go — because it’s so formal. People don’t want to pay money to be suppressed.”

It wasn’t just the patrons that enjoyed the music. Michael Bergeron, who works at McGonigel’s, enjoyed the singers, too.

“I love working this show; I’ve done about three or four of them,” Bergeron said. “The thing is, when I’m watching, sometimes I’m moved to tears. It just reminded me that this is such a pure way to experience music.”

Through this type of programming of theater, jazz and operatic songs, Moores connected to new and old patrons of the opera center. Paul Abdullah, one of the troupe’s pianists who has performed with them several times, appreciates the community outreach that the opera center fosters.

“It’s important to get out in the community and work in less-than-ideal circumstances,” Abdullah said. “The important part is people enjoy it and people realize what we’re communicating, and that’s what it’s about.”

As quickly as the show ended, calls for more were made.

“Bring it. Once a year isn’t often enough; it needs to be twice a year,” Bergeron said.

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