By Daniel Johanson
This past weekend, the opera department at CCPA mounted its fully staged production of Gioachino Rossini’s “Il Viaggio a Reims.” The performance featured all graduate voice students and the CCPA orchestra. The performance — as with many like it — took a lot of collaboration to come to reality.
“I love opera because it is so collaborative from beginning to end,” said Andrew Eggert, the show’s director and head of the Opera Program. “With an opera like ‘Viaggio,’ which involves a large orchestra, a large cast of soloists [and] extensive choral scenes, it has opportunities for collaboration on every level. What’s so great about collaboration of this kind is that it is an ongoing conversation.”
Rossini originally wrote the score as a commission for the coronation of the French King Charles X, which took place in Reims. The occasional nature of this piece meant that it wasn’t intended to be performed other than at its original premiere. Since it was a gift for the king, the orchestration is quite extensive, and actually calls for 16 vocal soloists, allowing for a wealth of opportunity for the many singers at CCPA.
“It’s really exciting, because as a singer, we’re often singing our solo repertoire with just piano,” first-year graduate student Gabrielle Sarcone said. “It’s fun to be able to perform the music in the way the composer had intended, with orchestra and with a conductor.”
There were two separate productions of the program, each with a different cast, which allowed for the application of the entire voice department at CCPA. It spoke to an innovative program at CCPA: the partnership with the Chicago Opera Theater.
Chicago Opera Theater is an opera company based in Chicago that puts on productions regularly. CCPA’s partnership with the theater facilitates more openings for study at CCPA for performers interested in receiving an Artist Diploma. These performers made up part of the cast for the weekend’s performance.
“The greatest thing we do operatically in the COT program is that when we get to the performance, that’s already two thirds of the way through the process,” said Matthan Black, who is in his second year of the COT program. “The best thing about doing this is that we get the score in June and then spend the time with Scott [Gilmore] and Andrew [Eggert] in our coachings. I get to soak up so much of their brains, by the time we get to bring it to rehearsal, there’s already this relationship with the score that I would not have been able to have on my own.”
The soloists have an even greater challenge. They are expected to be responsible for their connection with the orchestra and the conductor.
“When you’re singing with the orchestra, it takes fostering a relationship with the conductor,” Black said. “I actually find it’s a lot easier to kind of go on autopilot when you have that percussive element of the piano. The attack of the strings, the attack of the horns — everything is so completely different. If you trust your ears, you’re really off.”
Another facet of CCPA’s operatic traditions is the stipulation that the operas performed in the second semester are done in the original language. For “Viaggio,” this means it was performed in Rossini’s native Italian.
“Doing an opera like ‘Viaggio’ in the original language is such a great educational opportunity because the Italian language is so closely bound to the music,” Eggert said. “There’s a value on many levels, because there’s the skill of being able to perform it in the language, but there’s also how much one learns about the music by doing it in the original language.”
To help combat the language barrier between performer and audience, the performance of “Viaggio” used supertitles. This is a very common practice by opera companies in which a translation is projected directly above the action.
“The supertitles are prepared by myself and Professor Scott Gilmore,” Eggert said. “We did it midway through the process. So, it was after the point where he had already coached all of the material and I had already staged all of the material. So, we were able to custom design them to match the production.”
Supertitles aren’t always prepared with such attention to detail. Eggert’s professional experience has proven that if carefully done, they can be very successful.
“I hate it If I go to see an opera production in Italian, and they’re running supertitles that don’t match the stage,” Eggert said. “it’s a very disconcerting thing if you’re performing on stage, and you’re about to say a punchline, and the audience laughs before you say it. Because they’re laughing at the supertitle. So, you have to make the supertitles match exactly the way you stage it.”
Conceptually, the opera brought up many challenges. It is for this reason that the staff involved with the organization was quite extensive.
“The designers and I really came into this production by thinking about the idea of a hotel as a place where travelers come together from all different places and get all mixed up,” Eggert said. “We realized that the hotel lobby, in particular, would be a really great setting for the types of chance encounters, intrigue and farce that are at the core of this libretto. We also became very interested in the idea of engaging the audience, in a sense, making them feel in the theater that they are looking into and are indeed a part of this whole environment.”
The second run of CCPA’s “Il Viaggio a Reims” is April 2 and 4 in Roosevelt’s Ganz Hall.