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York Symphony tries something new: Opera

Samuel Frost
For The York Dispatch

For one night only, the York Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will be joined by classically trained vocalists from the University of Denver’s Lamont Opera Theatre to perform Mozart’s comic opera, "Cosi fan tutti (All Women Are Like That)."

The York Symphony Orchestra and University of Denver's Lamont Opera Theatre present "Cosi fan tutti" April 30.

The performance will feature the regalia of a fully staged opera production, including ornately designed sets, costumes and wigs.

“The symphony has never staged an opera, and it’s a great first opera for people to come check out,” said Kenneth Cox, director of the University of Denver’s Lamont Opera Theatre.

Each semester, the university theater program debuts a major production. Although the spring run of "Cosi fan tutti"recently ended, the cast and crew are bringing the show to York for a single performance on Saturday, April 30. This is the only performance the company will do away from its home theater.

Mastering the production took a full six months, and the cast members were even required to learn Italian.

“They were cast in their roles at the end of September," he said. "They spend the rest of the fall learning their roles, learning the Italian, learning the music and then memorizing their roles before we began rehearsing the first of February.

"It’s kind of a lengthy process, just the amount of material each one of these singers have to learn and memorize,” he said.

The York Symphony Orchestra and University of Denver's Lamont Opera Theatre present "Cosi fan tutti" April 30.

Not only are the operatic parts difficult, he said, but the style requires near-perfect performances from the actors.

“It’s a real ensemble show — all six members are onstage quite a bit. In order to have a good experience, you have to have all six singers doing a good job — we have that in these six singers coming to work. All of them are well prepared, all of them are very strong in their roles.”

Students: The performance allows the students to gain firsthand experience as opera singers, which will benefit them after they graduate, Cox said.

“What I do is rent the sets and the costumes from professional opera companies — the students assemble the sets themselves and strike the sets at the end,” he said.

“I tailor our rehearsal process to be very similar to what kids get with professionals out in the business. The first time they show up for a professional job, they have experience with what they’re in for.”

With a running time of two hours and 40 minutes, the show is a great introduction for audience members who may not have seen an opera before.

“It’s one of the greatest operas that Mozart wrote, and certainly one of the most entertaining operas that we have. I would just recommend it for people who have never seen an opera and would like to see something at the Strand,” Cox said.

“There’s not a weak song in the show, the characters are well drawn, the comedy keeps the show moving — there’s not a section that drags, because of the comic element. I think you’ll giggle your way through the show.”

Most of all, Cox said he is looking forward to traveling to York with his students and experiencing a show at the renowned Strand Theater.

The York Symphony Orchestra and University of Denver's Lamont Opera Theatre present "Cosi fan tutti" April 30.

“For the students, it’s a real treat to be able to take the show on the road. I’m really looking forward to sharing that with the kids — not just the performing, but getting to meet some new people and doing it in a beautiful theater for the first time.”

Golan: Lawrence Golan, who is in his second season as music director and conductor of the York Symphony Orchestra, also spoke with The York Dispatch about the orchestra's first operatic production.

Q: Does the YSO perform many operas with singers?

A: No, in fact this is the first fully staged opera production that the YSO has ever put out. It’s two-fold: firstly, it comes from my affiliation with the University of Denver, where I am a faculty-member and conduct the orchestra and the opera program. We do two fully staged opera productions every year. When I first came to York, I met Tim Grumbacher, owner of the Bon-Ton department stores. … While I certainly had it in the back of my mind that at some point down the road we might want to consider a collaboration and bring one of our productions from Denver to York, I didn't have it in my mind to do it so soon in my tenure. When I spoke to Tim Grumbacher, he was so interested in the idea — he’s a big opera fan and thought it would be great for community. He offered to be an underwriter for it, which was essentially an offer I couldn’t refuse, so that’s how it came about.

Q: What can audience members hope to experience at the performance?

A: Several things. One is that they will experience music by one of the greatest composers of all time — Mozart. It’s among the greatest music ever written: beautiful arias, ensemble, duets, quartets, an orchestra — absolutely incredible music. In addition, they will see (for the first time) a fully staged opera production with beautiful sets, period costumes and wigs. These are beautiful, elaborate period costumes, and the sets are just spectacular. It’s really not only a wonderful aural experience but also a wonderful visual experience. It’s a unique and special opportunity for the community.

Q: Why was this particular Mozart opera selected?

A: We wanted to do a very famous opera, something lighthearted — this one is an absolute comedy from beginning to end. I think it’s a wonderful introduction to the art form. There are many great operas — some are more serious and complex than others, but like I said, the nature of this one, it is an excellent first opera. This is a very unique opportunity.

The York Symphony Orchestra and University of Denver's Lamont Opera Theatre present "Cosi fan tutti" April 30.

Q: Can we expect to see more operatic performances from the YSO in the future?

A: Yes, I believe so. We obviously need to see how this first one goes and how it’s received — but assuming it’s successful and assuming we have the financial support from the community to do so, we can plan on an opera production every other year. But I will say it’s not free — it can’t be done without significant financial contributions from the community. My only point is that we would need to continue that — opera is the most expensive art form.

The York Symphony Orchestra and University of Denver's Lamont Opera Theatre present "Cosi fan tutti" April 30.

Info Box: 

The York Symphony Orchestra will present “Cosi fan tutti (All Women Are Like That)" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St.

Single tickets starting at $29 for adults and $10 for students are available online at www.yorksymphony.org and by calling 717 846-1111.

For more information about the Lamont Opera Theatre, visit www.du.edu/ahss/lamont/areas-study/ensembles/opera.html.