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Miami opera: performers become professionals

When asking an average Miami student if they plan to see the annual Miami Opera, their response would most likely be along the lines of We have an opera?

Miami University does, in fact, have an opera program. It exists under the vocal performance major in Miami's music department. The opera is directed by vocal professor Benjamin Smolder, who says the program hopes to produce students who go on to top conservatories for graduate programs, notably Juilliard and The Royal Conservatory of London.

"It prepares you for multiple leadership positions, and to take on the role of a real professional," Smolder said. "We invest in our students."

According to Smolder, the Miami Opera has been a three-time winner of the National Opera Association Award for Outstanding Collegiate Performance, a prestigious award typically reserved for performing arts schools or conservatories.

For Miamians involved with the opera, being both a student and a performer is no small feat. In preparation for the spring performance, students returned from winter break a week early to participate in six to eight hours of rehearsal per day. When classes began, preparation for the performance dwindled to four to five hours a day on top of classes, homework and other responsibilities.

"It says something about your musical ability and your dedication," said junior Luke Wielgos, one of many student performers in the opera.

This year, the students' dedication and hard work took form as two humorous operatic performances: Mozart's "The Producer" and Menotti's "The Old Maid and the Thief." The department performed the pieces last weekend, Feb. 21-24.

"The Producer," originally written and set in 1787, was adapted by Smolder to take place in 1930s Hollywood. A funny, biting competition between two divas, this Hollywood-glam production is reminiscent of "The Great Gatsby." Intricate set and costume design transported the audience into the world of the opera, fully enveloping them in the performance.

"The Old Maid and the Thief" was performed as written. In this quick-witted work, a free-wheeling vagabond, played by sophomore Nate Wilkens, rolls into a small town only to leave chaos, conflict and happy mistakes wherever he goes.

"When you see an opera, you are viewing a portion of history that is hundreds of years old, and old transformed to new," Wielgos said. "Most people think opera is a dying art, but actually there are more operas produced in one year than in 300 years in the past [combined]. Just know, there is still an active effort to be involved in this art form, it's still going strong."

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