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UW-Eau Claire tests itself by staging Mozart’s Figaro

Editor's note: The following story about UW-Eau Claire opera appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of Volume One magazine and is reprinted with permission. Photo by Andrea Paulseth from Volume One.

The end of February marks the end of months of preparation for UW-Eau Claire's biannual opera. This year they're performing Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, one of the most popular operas performed in the United States. 

"It's a great story," says the production's director, Kenneth Pereira. "Every time I pull out my score again and dig into it, I discover more and fall in love with it even more. I never get tired of it." 

And if you're not an opera aficionado, no need to worry, says Pereira: "I think this is a great opera to go to if you've never been to an opera." 

The Marriage of Figaro (also known as The Mad Day) is a comedic opera about 24 crazy hours in the home of Count Almaviva. Wedding preparations are underway for his head servant, Figaro, who is a "jolly prankster," according UW-Eau Claire's own Figaro, Jacob Burgess. There's revenge, scheming, and plenty of antics.

The opera will be performed in English as well, preventing language barriers for those who aren't familiar with the original Italian. The Marriage of Figaro is not only a great experience for first time opera-goers, but also for those who are singing in the opera. 

"I find Mozart's writing to be incredibly healthy for the voice and good for young singers," says Pereira. It gives young vocalists the chance to dip their feet into the opera world and challenge themselves musically. Developing an opera skill set takes years of practice, and for some, The Marriage of Figaro will be the beginning of that journey.

The opera program at UW-Eau Claire sets itself apart from other schools. Opera programs are typically offered at larger colleges with more graduate programs.

"It's a great opportunity, and I think it's a really unique opportunity. ... There are so many schools who don't have the facilities or the staff to be able to put something like this on," Burgess says. "It's such a rare treat to be able to do this and for the school to be able to do this every couple of years and be able to put on consistently wonderful performances."

For Burgess, a vocal performance major, this is an especially valuable experience as an undergraduate. At a larger university, these operatic opportunities are usually given to graduate students. Experience in opera at such a young stage in a vocal career not only gives performers a leg up on their résumés, but also gives them skills unique to opera that can be hard to come by.

"It's really a collaborative team effort," said Gina Cruciani, who plays Susanna. "We're all so incredibly lucky to be able to work with not only students but professors from the other departments as well. And to be able to take stuff that you're learning about –all the different components –it's such a learning experience." 

Students from multiple departments (some not even affiliated with the arts) are involved in playing music, set design, costume design, and other jobs. Pereira estimates that more than 100 students are contributing to the production. Each student is essential in helping the performance flow smoothly. 

"The number of people in different areas and different fields coming together to put on this piece of art for the community … I think it shows through our differences how we can contribute to the whole," Pereira said. "That's how community works together." 

The Marriage of Figaro debuts on Thursday, Feb 26, at Gantner Hall in Haas Fine Arts Center at UWEC. The show runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through March 7, plus a 1:30pm matinee Sunday, March 8. Tickets: $9-$16.