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A Night at the Opera




Apprentice Opera Stars Perform for County Residents

Gabrielle Firenze and Daniel Cilli perform “What do the Simple Folks Do?” for senior citizens.

Apprentice Artists from the Utah Symphony and Opera Company were in Emery County recently performing at the schools and senior citizen centers. They also presented a public concert, “Sing the Night Away” on Feb. 13 at the Emery High Auditorium.
The Ensemble has been on tour throughout the Intermountain West performing for all age groups and introducing them to the world of opera. They have chosen the “Operalympics” as the way to introduce the art form to young students. The older students were also experiences.”
Thurman said, “We receive training with the opera company. We work on our languages and stage deportment. We are coached on music and styles. We really work hard on the languages to make sure the pronunciation is correct because the opera uses many languages. We also work with the opera professionals in master classes where we are tutored by more experienced opera performers.”
Richter said, “We are working to polish what we learned in school and put it into practice. This is like the end of our study period and before our careers in opera.”
Thurman said, “Working with the kids is fun but it can be tiring. It is good training to perform 5-7 days straight it builds stamina. The workshops we hold for the students teaches them a bit about communicating with music and how we use makeup, props and other things. This is a different musical experience for many of the students. Many of them have never been to an opera before.”
One of the workshops which Richter helps with teach the children how to behave as an audience member at an opera. They learn the differences in behavior between a basketball game and an opera performance. “These are good experiences for the students,” said Richter.
Thurman said, “One of the Huntington students came up to me after the performance and said this was the first time she had heard opera and said, ‘Now, I’m a fan.’ We work to dispel the myth that opera is boring. Opera is not boring.”
Cilli described the career of an opera performer as a freelance career. They have many auditions for many different opera companies. Sometimes you are gone for three weeks at a time or two months. They spend a lot of time moving around. Each opera has their performing season. The performers described the opera life as being difficult for a family. They must work hard to carry on distance relationships. Richter described a Dear John email he received from a girl friend when he had been performing with an opera company and was into his contract, “She couldn’t take it.” But, Richter also described a lot of opera performers who do have families and make it work. “They are committed to balance their careers and their families. After you have been into your career for a while, you can pick and choose your performances. But, right now we’re too young for that and we just take what we can get,” Richter said.
Firenze said, “The costuming is fun and we get to dress up for fun. It keeps us youthful. We can play around and get paid for it. I love performing, it’s fun. But, an opera career also requires a lot of dedication…..it’s hard to do this.”
Richter teased that, “We couldn’t hold a real job, so we’re singing for a living.”
Cilli commented, “It’s not easy. At auditions you are competing against hundreds of people you know. But, I have to do this. I have a need to do it. It’s always been my first choice.”
Thurman said, “Music has always been there. I would put on shows for my mom and her friends. I was always writing songs and singing.”
Richter said, “I always wanted to be a baseball player. I tried out for professional teams but I wasn’t fast enough. I received one recruiting letter, but decided I probably wouldn’t make it so I jumped into music in college. I played both sports and was involved in music in high school. But, since I was better at music than baseball, I have stuck with my music.”
Thurman said, “There is a serious side to all of this. We are looking at refining our skills and getting better at what we do. There are multiple aspects to opera. All of the training and languages…… it takes a lot of commitment to become fluent in French, Russian, German, Italian and English. The training of a voice is an abstract thing. Learning to make it sound a particular way. We are always learning and it can be frustrating sometimes. We are always trying to perform and polish our skills. That aspect of opera is always there.”
Richter said, “It’s all about keeping it fun too. There are many performers who still sing into their 70s and just get better. It is a constant learning process.”
Perry said, “We’re all serious about our music and feel the same way about constantly learning and improving.”
These young apprentices have a long list of accomplishments even though it is early in their careers. Cilli has graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Stetson University and a master’s at the New England Conservatory. He performed with the apprentice program in Iowa and has also had roles in Gianni Schicchi, Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, Sid in Albert Herring, Sultan Achmet in Canslide and Maestro in Vina La Mama.
Firenze has participated in the Utah Festival Opera Young Artist Program. She performed roles as second lady in The Magic Flute, Ethel in Desert Song and the Baroness in The Sound of Music. She earned her bachelor’s degree in voice at McGill University and her Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music. She furthered her training at the Bel Canto Northwest Festival, Tanglewood Music Center, Israel Vocal Arts Institute and the American Institute for Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. She also performed as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild Outreach Program. She has played Dinah and also Suor Cercatrice in Suor Angelica.
Perry is the pianist for the Ensemble. She completed a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance at the University of Arizona. She has performed in concerts and festivals throughout the western U.S. and Italy where she did her dissertation research on 20th century Italian piano music. She is a two-time recipient of the Medici Scholars award and is active as vocal and instrumental accompanists and as a piano teacher. She earned her bachelor and master of music degrees from Brigham Young University.
Richter was recently an apprentice with Des Moines Metro Opera where he performed the roles of Emperor Altoum in Turandot and the First Jew in Salome on the main stage. He has also participated in the apprentice programs at Utah Festival Opera and Central City Opera. He performed the roles of Master of Ceremonies in Gloriana and Parpignol in La Boheme as well as Larry/Matt in Face on the Barroom Floor. He was the winner of the Nebraska District of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and also honorable mention at the upper Mid-West Regional MET. Upcoming roles include Giles Corey in The Crucible and Bardolfo in Falstaff for Des Moines Metro Opera in 2003.
Thurman was in residence at Natchez Opera Festival, recently where she sang the role of Pauline in Toy Shop and covered Valencienne in The Merry Widow. Other credits include Suor Dolcina in Suor Angelica with Des Moines Metro Opera, and Suor Genovieffa in the same work with the Aspen Opera Theater Center. She also has played the role of Sister Suzanna in the world premier of Bernard Rands’ opera, Belladonna. She has also performed as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Pamina in The Magic Flute, Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, and Sandmannchen in Hansel and Gretel. Thurman earned her bachelor’s degree in music at Oklahoma City University and her masters’s at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

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