UT opera singers stage free, live performance


Amy Zhang

Music performance graduate students Tim O'Brien and Chance Eakin are two UT opera singers involved in "The Elixir Project."

A trip to the SFC Farmers’ Market East last Tuesday would have allowed shoppers to witness a free live opera performance by UT students. 

UT’s Butler Opera Center, in collaboration with the Austin Lyric Opera, stage a free performance of “The Elixir Project,” which is based off of Italian composer Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love” at nine venues across Austin. The final performance will be at the Mexican American Cultural Center this Tuesday.

“I enjoy this project because it’s a way of making opera accessible for lack of interest or lack of exposure,” said Tim O’Brien, music performance graduate student and a performer in the project. “People will just have a chance to run across us and grab a taste for the opera.”

The duration of each show is 30 minutes. The comic opera depicts the story of Nemorino, a peasant in love with a wealthy girl, Adina, who does not love him back but instead loves Belcore, a sergeant. Nemorino seeks help from doctor Dulcamara who sells Nemorino a magic love potion, which turns out to be cheap wine. Doctoral student Juan Carlos Rodriguez plays Nemorino and music performance graduate student Hanna Lee plays Adina.

According to Robert DeSimone, director of UT’s Butler Opera Center, the performances have been conceptualized with the idea of making opera a mass art form.

“In a traditional opera venue, you are away from the audience,” O’Brien said. “For this project, the style is much more conversational. We come out of the audience and we even sing directly to the audience members.”

“The Elixir Project” is the second in the series of collaborations between the Butler Opera Center and the Austin Lyric Opera, following the 2012 performance of “The Pagliacci Project.”

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for the young UT opera singers to perform in different venues with different kinds of audiences in the Austin community,” DeSimone said.

Music performance graduate student Chance Eakin plays Dulcamara and is one of the four UT opera singers who were selected for this collaboration after the audition process last August. 

“Opera is not just about the fat lady singing,” Eakin said. “It’s not an archaic art form. These are real stories about real people.”

As the quack doctor, Dulcamara tries to create a rift between Nemorino and Adina by passing off cheap wine as a magic love potion.

“My job is to stir the pot,” Eakin said. “My character creates the conflict between Nemorino and Adina. You can’t have a good story without some conflict.”

O’Brien plays Belcore, a proud military man, who gives up Adina when she decides to marry Nemorino.

“He’s kind of a jerk,” O’Brien said. “He’s very funny to play, and it was a chance to bring out your inner peacock and overact a little bit.”

An opera does not come without its challenges, according to Eakin. It is as much about acting and performing as it is about singing.

“You have to find a way as a singer to not let your emotion affect your ability to convey the music,” Eakin said. “You can’t let the emotions overtake your music.”

O’Brien acknowledges Eakin’s view, and goes one step further by mentioning that the singing is what distinguishes opera singers.

“The people who do it the best are people who are wonderful singers and wonderful actors,” O’Brien said.

While O’Brien loves to play more romantic roles, Eakin loves to play villains.

“Playing a villain is simple but not easy,” Eakin said. “The poor hero has to go through all of these different emotions, whereas the villain wants only one thing: He either wants power or the girl. All of his entire being is devoted to this one task.”

Opera not only requires years of training and a knack for portraying characters convincingly but physical stamina.

“I’ve noticed in them, their ability to become more professional with each experience and each performance,” DeSimone said. “It just adds to their idea of what they would like to do in their operatic careers.”