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Cavalleria Rusticana: A Shasta College Production

By Julie Olson

The Shasta College Opera Workshop is back for their 5th annual opera performance, premiered and encored between January 31 and February 3.
 The evening began with a novice presentation of Pietro Mascagni’s complete opera, Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry), a sensual and dark romantic tragedy. Following intermission was a single scene from the comic opera Cosi Fan Tutte, by Mozart, translated “Thus Do All [Women].” The last performance of the event was a scene from an eccentric opera called Faust, by Charles Gounod.
“Cavalleria has been a difficult score for our young singers to learn, but they are a very talented group, and have risen to the challenge.”
– Robert Waterbury, Artistic Director
The colorful cast of Cavalleria Rusticana consisted of 24 dedicated students, as well as supporting auxiliary from the Shasta College Chorale.
According to Mr. Waterbury, the students had to “learn a great deal of difficult music and complicated staging.”
Most of the main songs were sung in their original Italian and French. The students, most of which had little to know experience speaking these languages, perfected every line in barely four months.
The entire set design for Cavalleria was constructed and illustrated under the management of David Fraser, a former Shasta College instructor who now works as our technician.
 He has a very significant influence on most, if not all, scene painting and set design projects for events.
 Mr. Fraser, with help from the North Valley Art League as well as students from the Stage Production class, began working on this opera’s stage set up after winter break and has been working very hard every hour of the day to design the theater to perfection.
The set up includes an array of intricate stage-pieces, including a blown up collage of a crowded carnival scene and a ceiling-length Italian altar with a cut-out portrayal of the Christ hanging at the center. The main backdrop for Cavalleria, an impressive scene of a small Italian neighborhood, stretches across the width and height of the entire back wall.
The Performers
Adam Gilbert, a third year performance major here at Shasta, played two leading roles: Turridu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Foust in Foust.
 Adam was chosen for these parts because of his ability as a “tenor” vocalist; that is, the highest male singing voice among lyrical performers.
Although this is not his first opera gig, this is his first time participating as a lead role.
 “I still get really nervous,” he admits about performing to a live audience, but, ” it’s more of an exhilarating experience than a terrifying one.”
Natasha Czajka, a vocal performance majorplayed the lead female soprano roles of Marguerita in Foust and Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutti. She began singing at a very young age and has a passion for opera because she loves the “dramatic aspect of the music.”
Natasha says she connects most with her role in Cosi Fan Tutti because she’s a “dork in reality” and Dorabella is a spazzy character.
Natasha particularly enjoyed acting in these plays because “in our culture we don’t see a lot of tragedy in opera anymore.”
Jacob Broussard, a sophomore computer graphics major with a minor in vocal performance, played the eerie “lyric baritone” role of Mephistopheles (Satan) in Faust.
“I was born on stage,” Jacob claims.
To get into character, Jacob says, he tries to “look for role models.”
For instance, in order to better connect with his creepy role for Faust, he tried to act similarly to a Yugio character named Maximillian Pegasus.” He chose this model because “he’s smooth, aristocratic, and… he was just a creeper.”
Something he likes about the opera is that you can “take an art form that’s been around for a very long time and make it something new.”
Marshall Jones, a Tenor who is currently strutting a disheveled beard he’s been growing for two and a half months in preparation for his next play (The Fiddler on the Roof, in which he will act out the role of Motel, an amorous tailor), was assigned the lead character of soldier Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte.
 “It’s been a blast,” Marshall says. Something he enjoys about opera is that “the trills of the music tell you what to do and when to do it.”
 Marshall is a music major with a focus on composition. “I want to be a rock star composer,” he says.
 For those of us who have trouble understanding the beauty of opera, he oh-so eloquently describes the true essence of this tragically under-appreciated art.
 So… why is opera so great?
At first impression, one may say it’s just a “fat guy in a suit singing really loud.” But according to Marshall, “opera is supposed to be the best singing and the best acting at the same time; the best of both worlds.”
“Now imagine combining the acting of Russell Crow (Gladiator) with the voice of Bruce Dickenson (Iron Maiden), and combine them into one being.”
 He also says a good opera should “make you cry, feel like a man,” and also “break your heart.”
 Basically, “It’s just supposed to do all of your emotions.”
 And that’s exactly what the cast of all three operas did for us.
 If you missed this marvelous production, stay tuned for next year’s Opera Workshop announcements.
For information on all Shasta College musical and dramatic productions, contact the arts, communications & social sciences department at (530) 242-7730.

Comments (3)

  • Dr. Elizabeth Waterbury

    Thanks for a very good article on the opera. Sometimes we might feel ignored over here in the music department. It is so much better when we feel part of the college community. We can’t have that feeling without the connection from student to student. You provide that vital link from the music department out to the college community. Thanks. again.

    • Patrick Carr

      Our pleasure Dr. Waterbury, we hope to cover all of our bases and realize that the theatre department is a big department and is frequently shunted aside.

  • Julie Olson

    I gotta say I had a blast getting to know the students in the Opera Workshop Dr. Waterbury (: They are an extremely talented group and I look forward to other exciting performances from the music and theater department this semester.


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