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Pre-July 2009 Press Archives

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3/25/2003 Opera Workshop performance to feature folk theme

McMINNVILLE - Folk costumes, dancing and operatic song will come to life on the Melrose stage as members of the Linfield College Opera Workshop present "A Fair of Folk Fare," Sunday, April 13, at 8 p.m. in Melrose Auditorium.

The performance is the culmination of the Linfield Opera Workshop, a one-credit course offered each spring to give students operatic experience. It will run about an hour and a half, and is free and open to the public.

In its 11th year, the workshop is directed by Gwen Leonard, professor of music at Linfield. She is assisted by David Howell, stage director; Kathy Ganske, Linfield staff accompanist; and Brian Conatser, Oregon State University staff accompanist. Choreographer Edwina Castle is coordinating a vast array of folk dances for the performance including polka, square dancing and a May pole dance.

"It is a learning experience and an evolution for most of the students," Leonard said. "Many of them have been on stage but to take opera material and do it within the context of two months of preparation is quite an accomplishment."

Folk influence from Czechoslovakian and American opera will be displayed in renditions from three operas. For the first time, the workshop will present a complete one-act opera, "Down in the Valley," set in Appalachia by Kurt Weill. A scene, "A Real Slow Drag," from "Treemonisha" by Scott Joplin and the first act from the "The Bartered Bride" by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana will also be performed.

Thirty participants, made up mostly of students but supplemented by some professionals and community members, will perform. Bobby Jackson, a member of the Portland Opera Chorus, will play Kezal, the marriage broker in "The Bartered Bride." Also in that act, John Paul Bierly, who earned a degree in vocal performance from Linfield in 2002, will play the role of Jenik. The character is familiar to Bierly, a three-year veteran of the workshop - he sang Jenik as a freshman in the class.

"It's much easier now," he said. "I have more control over my voice and I feel like I can delve into the role more. Taking part in the opera workshop is a great opportunity to sing. It's difficult to find singing roles when you're not out there actively seeking them."

Bierly said Linfield students are fortunate to have the opportunity to perform opera. Most other institutions offering operatic training at the undergraduate level have strict auditions that ultimately limit participation.

"At Linfield, there is always a part for everyone who wants one, and because Gwen is directly involved with the vocal training at the college she knows her students and doesn't ask more of them than she knows they're capable of providing," he said.

Leonard has seen a number of changes in the workshop during the past decade, including an increase in the number of students capable of operatic singing.

"Students are studying earlier and progressing faster through their late teen years," she explained. "By the time they get to college, they are capable of light opera. We're conscious of the fact that we have to guard their voices and not give them operatic material that is too heavy because it would strain their voices. There's an endurance factor in building the voice. It's a gradual process."

The Linfield College Opera Workshop gives students an opportunity to combine singing and acting ability in the context of studying repertoire from the best of musical theatre. The workshop was established in 1993 when student singers collaborated with the Linfield Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Pergolesi's "la Serva Padrona."

For more information, call the Linfield Music Department at 503-883-2275.