Conservatory celebrates summer with bel canto music

What happens when you let 16 Opera Conservatory students choose the repertoire for their last student recital of the season?

You get over two hours of music content in the bel canto tradition.

“Since it is the last Opera Conservatory recital for this summer, we just wanted to share some of our favorite repertoire with the people of Chautauqua,” said soprano Alexis Reed.

The Opera Conservatory’s last student recital occurs at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 in Fletcher Music Hall with repertoire including bel canto, which is 17th, 18th and early 19th century Italian operatic music, along with other significant Italian composers.

Some of the music fits directly into the bel canto genre, such as Bellini’s “Dopo l’oscuro nembo” as sung by mezzo-soprano Matilda Smolij.

Sean Smith / staff photographer Opera Conservatory student Juliette Di Bello, soprano, performs “Die Junge Nonne” during a recital on July 6 in Fletcher Music Hall. The students will give their last recital of the season at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 in Fletcher.

“This piece is actually, practically, the same as the famous soprano aria ‘Oh! quante volte’ but written for a mezzo-soprano in a different opera,” Smolij said. “I just couldn’t let the sopranos keep all the beautiful arias.”

Other pieces of music are connected to the theme loosely because they are from Italian composers, such as Verdi or Puccini. But for soprano Georgiana Adams, who is singing Puccini’s “Senza mamma, o bimbo, tu sei morto!,” Puccini still reflects the impact of bel canto music.

“It is a great example of the impact that the bel canto style had on future composers,” Adams said. “While Puccini was not yet composing his operas at the time that the bel canto style was at its most popular, you can hear the ways in which it influenced his operatic compositions.”

The recital is a celebration of more than just the music being sung; it also celebrates the students’ growth throughout the 2022 season.

“When I came here, I would not have been able to sing this aria while paying respect to tradition and the overall weight of Verdi being the pinnacle for most opera singers,” said bass-baritone Fabian-Jakob Balkhausen, referring to Verdi’s “Il lacerato spirito,” the piece he will sing tonight. “After working with some of the best instructors on this planet for five weeks, I feel I can give this aria a first try in front of a live audience, while honoring the composer as much as I can in my vocal development right now.”

Balkhausen attributes  his growth this summer to Opera Conservatory Director Marlena Malas.

“She gave me a lot of tools to become a better singer, and made me fall in love with singing and also my voice all over again, and put me in the space where I personally think every young singer should be,” he said.

This recital commemorates the development of each singer over the past few weeks, which is a cause for joy, but it also marks the end of the Opera Conservatory season and the inevitable departure of the students.

“I feel an air of melancholy over this being the last recital of our season here at the Chautauqua Opera Conservatory. I have had such a wonderful time here at Chautauqua,” Adams said. “The time has gone by so quickly.”

The recital will provide a mix of triumph and tears, as the students share their dedication to the art of opera one last time this summer.

“I believe that this concert will be first and foremost a celebration of operatic repertoire, both solo and ensemble, and as opera is my passion, I am so excited to be a part of it,” soprano Juliette Di Bello said.

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The author Megan Brown

Megan Brown previously managed the business office of The Chautauquan Daily, but she returns as a reporter for the 2022 season. This fall she will graduate from Houghton College with degrees in writing and communication. Outside of class, she works as the co-editor-in-chief of her college’s newspaper The Houghton STAR and consults in the writing center. Megan loves any storytelling medium, traveling and learning new crochet patterns from YouTube.