Butler Opera Center kicks off series of four opera performances

Alejandra Martinez

Although she attends different classes each day, Ellie Jarrett ends her days the same way — rehearsing for her upcoming opera performance. For Jarrett, a first-year doctoral student and mezzo soprano who will be in two selections performed by the Butler Opera Center on Friday, rehearsals have been a balancing act this semester. 

“It’s been a challenge to stay at rehearsal every night, and then come home and try to do reading[s] and try to do journals and try to study,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett’s work will move to the stage Friday night when the two operas are performed at the McCullough Theatre. Despite the struggle to balance school and performing, Jarrett believes the preparation for Friday’s event has paid off.

“It’s the style and the range that has been most challenging for me,” Jarrett said. “I feel like I can do almost anything now, vocally, because of how much of a struggle it was for me at the beginning.”

The first piece for Friday’s event, the Prologue from Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos,” revolves around two groups of performers with radically different styles who have to perform as one cohesive group on the night they meet. The second, Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde”, is based on various Chinese poems translated into German that explore more abstract concepts.

The process of bringing the pieces to life began last spring. Robert DeSimone, music professor and director of the Butler Opera Center, has been following the process from the very beginning.

“There’s a fairly rigid process of how these things are put together,” DeSimone said. “And this process is done very much in the same way that you might find in a professional opera company anywhere in the world. It’s just that our singers are students.”        

While the Mahler piece was rich with emotional musical material, staging it gave the group the creative freedom to interpret the piece beyond the music. According to Kathleen Kelly, principal vocal coach and lecturer at the Butler Opera Center, there was ample room for interpretation.

“There’s a lot of emotional content in the orchestra,” Kelly said. “But in terms of how to physicalize it on stage, we’re just making all of that up. So the amount of creativity involved is huge. It’s a place for our directors’ imaginations to run wild.”    

DeSimone expects a diverse audience made up of people familiar with the work and those who are new to the music and their composers.    

“Anyone who is attracted to classical music will tend to know the name of both composers,” DeSimone said. “That in itself becomes an attraction, maybe even if they don’t know the work.”