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APU Opera: Getting a Handle on Händel

by Bethany Pillow '10

APU’s budding opera program put a groovy twist on classical opera with their production, Getting a Handle on Händel, which opened in Wilden Hall on Saturday, January 23. The opera paired selections from composer George Frideric Händel’s classical operas, most of which were written in the 1730s, with more modern costumes and settings from the 1970s. The show’s wide appeal was evident as the opera drew a full house both for opening night and for the following evening’s performance.

Associate Professor of Music Melanie Galloway, DMA, served as artistic and stage director for the opera, and was the originator of the bold pairing of Händel’s masterpieces with scenes from the disco decade. “Many people, when they hear the word ‘opera,’ think of something stuffy and old,” Galloway said. “I thought setting it in the 70s would give it a fun flavor and make it easier to relate to. This is definitely the production to bring someone who is opera-phobic to.”

With expressions as lively as their retro attire, the performers opened with a group number and moved on to solo pieces, accompanied by APU’s Chamber Orchestra under the direction of conductors Robert Sage, DMA, and Alex Russell. The performance was all in Italian, but the intense emotions in each selection were not lost on the audience. Graphic design major Shawn Phillips ’13 came to support several friends who were cast members. “The singing was amazing in all aspects, especially in how they were able to get across the same emotions now as when it was written,” Phillips said. “This is my first live opera that I’ve seen and I am thoroughly enjoying it.”

The cast consisted of 20 singers, many of whom had never performed in an opera onstage. They were blessed to work with what Galloway called the APU production “Dream Team”—a production staff of professional coaches and specialists including Anita Fisher, a choreographer from Scotland who trained with the Royal Ballet, and pianist and native Italian coach Leonardo Sciolis. This all-star staff trained the students in stage movement, character development, and even writing their own ornamentation for a vocal piece, skills highly prized in professional opera. Galloway hopes this production serves as a springboard for APU’s growing opera program.