UI School of Music to present spring opera La Clemenza di Tito


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A plan for revenge, an attempted murder, and an act of forgiveness set the scene of the opera La Clemenza di Tito.

The UI School of Music will perform its adaptation of the Mozart opera at 8 p.m. today through Saturday and 2 p.m. on May 5 at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. Admission is $5 for students with valid IDs, $10 for youth, $15 for seniors, and $20 general admission.

The piece was originally commissioned for the coronation celebration for Emperor Leopold II as his crowning as king of Bohemia.

Mozart collaborated with Italian librettist Caterino Mazzolá to create a tale based on the legacy of Emperor Tito.

La Clemenza di Tito focuses on the story of Vitellia, a princess whose father was recently deposed. Vitellia wants the throne back, so she comes up with a plan to marry current Emperor Tito.

When Tito does not return her love, she seeks help from his best friend, Sesto, to kill the emperor. Sesto is in love with Vitellia and will do anything to gain her attention, so he agrees to the plan.

At the end of the first act, the entire city of Rome is in an uproar and believes Tito to be dead.

Visiting Assistant Professor Laura Johnson, the director of the opera, said what’s wonderful about this piece is the complicated and complex characters who are dealing with huge emotional issues.

Johnson usually likes to start her rehearsal process by sitting down with the cast and talking about the journey each character takes throughout the story.

“The students have really been wonderful,” Johnson said. “They come in with so many ideas, I just wish we had more rehearsal time to experiment with characters.”

Because of the lack of rehearsal time, many of the students came into the process having done extensive research on their characters.

James Judd, a first-year graduate student in vocal performance, looked into numerous resources in order to figure out the decisions his character, Tito, should make during the show.

“The more you know about ‘yourself’ and the decisions you make and how they affect you, the more comfortable and convincing you look onstage and the more clear your dramatic intent comes out,” he said. “It also really helps you make emotional connections with others.”

Aside from being invested in their characters, the cast members also had to come to the first rehearsal knowing the music completely “off book.”

As an opera sung completely in Italian, the students started learning the language as early as October 2012.

Judd said he began the process by translating every word he was singing into English, so he could understand it.

He believes it is extremely important to know the Italian inside and out so the audience can see the actors expressing the language onstage.

“Italian isn’t just about a bunch of sounds; it becomes actual expressive words,” he said. “There is a lot of fluency in being able to express the language clearly.”

UI junior Jessica Faselt has mostly been involved in operas sung in English, so this was a different type of rehearsal process.

“It’s definitely been a new experience, focusing on the text, and memorizing speaking the words, and getting the feel of the language,” she said. “It requires more ahead-of-time planning and thinking through your motives.”

Besides learning the language, a lot of work also went in to the design of La Clemenza di Tito.

“My interest in this piece was to create something that would refer to the 18th century and ancient Rome but also remain contemporary in its look,” Johnson said.

The costuming sticks with this theme with a mixture of old and new long flowing fabrics suggests an ancient Rome style.

The costuming is one of the aspects Faselt looks forward to.

“My dress has a long train and a regal sort of look,” she said. “So I’m looking forward to finding moments where I can just swoosh it and make a big dramatic entrance.”

Music Professor John Muriello said the great part about the opera program at the UI is performing full productions with costumes, lighting, set design, and an orchestra.

“We have a fantastic production team, so everything always looks beautiful,” he said. “We also have a very good body of talented singers and quality directors who work to present a really fine evening of theater to the public.”

And a fine evening of theater this will be.

Faselt, who looks forward to her “mad scene” in which she gets to rip a veil into pieces as she sings, said it’s surreal when she gets to perform for a live audience.

“The feeling of being in the moment and having things gel that you know you’ve put a lot of work into is really satisfying,” she said.

Judd could not agree more as he described opening night as having a certain type of “electricity.”

“There is a level of expectancy combined with a level of excitement and anxiety,” he said. “To get to finally be able to share [the opera] with people who appreciate it — there are very few things that are better in life than that.”

La Clemenza di Tito
When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday, 2 p.m. May 5
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $5 students with valid IDs, $10 youth, $15 seniors, $20 general admission

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