Opera Workshop gives students a chance to explore

Katelyn Mudd

Most preparation for final exams involves students toiling away in the library studying or writing papers. Students who take the Grand Valley State University Opera Workshop class have rehearsals to pile on to an already busy exam preparation schedule.

“I first became involved in Opera Scenes two years ago when my now private vocal professor, Dale Schriemer, asked me to participate in a few scenes. I had an amazing experience and was delighted by everything Dale was able to teach me about performance,” said Katie Tamayo, who is working on a Bachelor of Arts in voice with minors in business and theater.

GVSU’s Opera Workshop class was created to give students an opportunity to explore a wide range of styles in music and characters as well as performance opportunities. The class culminates in two performances given over finals week at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center 1200 on Dec. 11 and 12. Since scenes performed are not in the context of a larger work, students receive a wider taste of different experiences.

“The class always starts with theater games and improvisation using body, vocal sound, and emotions. Then we use the songs they are singing in their lessons and experiment with different theatrical approaches to the music, suggest different contexts for that approach and just play, play, play,” said Schriemer, director of GVSU Opera Theater. “Sometimes music study can be so serious that we forget that we are ‘playing’ music.”

Excerpts from different theatrical works allow students to acquire short tastes of different styles, composers and eras. This year’s performances include scenes from both opera and musical theater. Students will perform scenes from musicals such as Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” They will also perform scenes from opera theater, including Benjamin Britten’s “The Little Sweep” and W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s “The Mikado.”

“I love, love, love teaching this course because it’s never the same,” Schriemer said. “The discovery process of each student is different and always new. The feedback that students get from me and their classmates is very stimulating and helpful. This kind of sharing is such a generous way for students to learn.”

Students looking to find jobs in theater are in a competitive field. This class is meant to give them the upper hand by providing them the opportunity to study and work with other students, receive and give feedback, and perform more.

But there is still more to be gained, as Schriemer tailors the course to meet students’ needs.

“Since Dale knows that I am interested in directing children’s theater someday, he asked me to be responsible for making the four puppets needed for a scene (last year),” Tamayo said.

Perhaps most importantly, though, this class allows students to show the community what they are working on.

“Being a voice performance major, you definitely want as much experience as you can get, and this class helps you meet that goal,” Tamayo said. “This year alone my voice has made leaps and bounds in the way of technique, style and tone. I am slowly but surely becoming more confident as a performer, and this class (gave) me the opportunity to show the community what I am capable of.”