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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Activities & Organizations

Moore’s Opera House honored by National Opera Association


Mark Thomas played Giovanni, the love-struck young man who became enchanted with Beatriz, played by Kaylie Kahlich in “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” | Photo courtesy of Buck Ross.

Moores Opera House took first and second place in the annual Division V of National Opera Association’s Opera Production Competition. In January it will be honored in Indianapolis by the NOA for the fifth time.

This year, Moore’s is being praised for its work on “Rappaccini’s Daughter” — first place — and “Frau Margot” — second place —  which ran in April 2015 and January 2015, respectively.

Director of Moores School of Music Buck Ross directed both shows and brought the words on the pages to life. Ross attributes the success of the shows to the singers, as the shows chosen each season are picked according to current opera students’ vocal tones.

Musical theater is often confused with opera, as both performances require skill and strong lungs, but opera shows generally involve a majority of the show, including conversations, to be sang — think Les Misérables rather than Wicked.

Mark Thomas, who is a second-year master’s of music student studying vocal performance, was one of the rotating actors behind the character of Giovanni, the love-struck young man who became enchanted with Beatriz, Rappaccinni’s daughter, in “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

“Singing opera is really like an athletic event,” Thomas said. “We are required to sing incredibly demanding, virtuosic music, without any form of amplification. Being able to perform at this level for several hours in a day is only possible through professional training and technical skill.”

Ross said that while preparing for musicals and operas is similar, and the vocal range is not radically different, the stamina opera requires takes much practice and time.

Second-year master’s of music student studying vocal performance Kaylie Kahlich, complemented Thomas’ character by rotating the role of Beatriz. Kahlich discovered her love for performance in fifth grade, and she has been studying and singing opera for roughly seven years.

“Everyone has their own process for preparing roles, but I begin first by reading any source materials for the story on which the opera is based,” Kahlich said. “If it is in another language, I translate the texts into English, then begin to study and learn the music and text. Finally, the show must be memorized before it is ready for staging.”

“Rappaccini’s Daughter” was performed in Spanish with English subtitles, while “Frau Margot” was performed in English. After the singers memorize their music, Ross steps in to help further bring out the character and stage the performance.

Elizabeth Borik, who is a second-year doctoral student studying vocal performance, and who played the title role in “Frau Margot,” felt she needed to go beyond the music and text to get to the root of her role.

Borik described Frau Margot, the wife of the opera’s composer Alban Berg, as “complex and unique,” thus provoking her to do extensive research into the life of woman the opera is based off of.

“I did a lot of research about Helene, Berg, his life, their marriage, his compositions, séances, death masks and drugs,” Borik said. “I wanted to make Frau Margot a living, breathing character.”

Ross compared opera singers to professional dancers who often only have a short amount of time in the spotlight.

“You could hang in there and come up with nothing,” Ross said. “But, if you’ve been aiming toward a singing career, one of the things I stress to my students is just because you may not be singing at the (Metropolitan Opera), it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be singing. We have a lot of people who are making very good money as local singers, and they’re combining teaching and singing and all kinds of things so that they’re contributing artists in society.”

To help prepare students for the competitive world of opera singing, Ross insists on performing more shows per year than other universities. While most other universities do two, UH does four.

“(I do it) because I’m stubborn,” Ross said. “In my mind, if we don’t do four, the students aren’t getting enough experience.”

For a university that hopes to produce talented singers in the opera circuit, the NOA awards are not overlooked.

“The awards certainly help give us a sort of bragging rights when it comes time to recruit students,” Ross said. “It makes our profile with other schools that much higher, so they think to send their students to come here for graduate school.”

With the upcoming season, Ross hopes Moores Opera House will continue to earn high marks among its peers and gain more notoriety.

“In the eyes of the Houston community it gives a legitimacy to what we do,” Ross said.

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