Of all the musical performances I’ve seen in Longview, none pleasantly surprised me more than the one I heard last week.
The six young women and two men who sang opera arias during a recital at the Wollenberg Auditorium ranged from good to excellent. They looked great and exuded confidence on stage.
It was artistically exciting to experience a form of music that doesn’t get much live exposure in Longview any more. The Columbia Theatre has shied away from classical music; it’s been about 15 years since a traveling opera group performed there.
Part of my surprise during “A Night at the Opera” stemmed from my own experience with Lower Columbia College vocal groups in the 1990s. I enjoyed singing in the Community Choir and taking group voice lessons for a few quarters. However, there was no way I or most of my classmates could have pulled off the full-blown arias I heard last week — nor were we asked to.
The LCC musical landscape changed in 2011, when the college hired its first full-time vocal instructor in decades. Gina Osborn expanded choir classes — and last fall started the opera workshop whose students sang last week.
“I figured this course would help students interested in pursuing a career in opera get a feel for how much time, effort and intrinsic motivation is necessary for this field,” Osborn said in an email.
Vocal students who want to transfer to a four-year school need to be able to sing in two foreign languages (the concert last week included arias in Italian, French, German and English). “The students walk away from the class having a small taste of the amount of work that goes into preparing a single aria,” she said.
Osborn lead off the recital by sharing her own considerable vocal skills, singing the first Mozart aria of the evening (six more Mozart works followed).
Eight students — Skylar Clark, J Wylie, Blaize Chafe, Christina Fiant, Alex Nelson, Mary Hadaller, Donnia Reed and Moriah Wylie — followed, in solos and duets.
Osborn introduced them to the audience as “a really broad range of students,” from beginners to those planning to pursue careers in opera. “They do it because they care about the art form,” rather than for a good grade, she said.
Stage movement is an important part of singing, and Osborn has obviously schooled these folks well. The women all wore elegant gowns, aware that opera and bright, flowing dresses are made for each other. The men were suitably attired in tuxes.
Soprano Mary Hadaller stood out in the brightest dress, and also with her well-developed voice. My favorite singer of the evening was Moriah Wylie, who had even richer vibrato and vocal strength. She also sang the most, on three pieces.
Wylie’s husband, who goes by “J.,” has a nice voice and plenty of stage schtick, which is useful when your character is describing the notorious lecher Don Giovanni from the Mozart opera of that name. Another rich bass voice belongs to Alex Nelson.
The other singers had pleasant voices which can improve as they continue to study.
About 150 people attended the performance, a good-enough showing for an event that didn’t get much publicity and isn’t familiar to many people.
Osborn said one of her reasons for offering the class is to expose more people to opera. “Opera has become a very inaccessible art form, and as a result has a diminishing audience base,” she said.
Part of the reason for that is that a medium-quality seat at the Portland Opera can cost $100. There’s no charge for LCC’s opera nights.
“By keeping our opera galas free, we open the doors for anyone and everyone who has ever been curious about opera to attend and can hopefully build new fans of this wonderful art form,” Osborn said.
I, for one, plan to return to the nights next season.