Operatic Tale of Two Cities

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 21, 2024
Isabel Bayrakdarian directs the mélange of melodies featured at UCSB’s first Opera Gala (photo by Zach Mendez)

Normally at this time of year, UCSB Music’s voice program would either mount a full-scale opera or a collection of staged opera scenes, but for 2024, the show has morphed into an Opera Gala, which is not only a collaboration between the music and theater-dance departments, but also a tale of two cities as UCSB joined forces with the Ventura College of Performing Arts. Under the artistic direction of UCSB’s opera star turned professor Isabel Bayrakdarian, the gala offers a blend of familiar arias and ensembles as well as a new work performed by the school’s opera singers and choir, plus dance performances choreographed by Christina McCarthy, and orchestral music played by students from both colleges. 

The inter-college collaboration – which features performances in both cities, winding up on Friday, May 17, at UCSB’s Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall – came about through Brent Wilson, the Los Angeles-based tenor, conductor, and stage director who is Department Chair of Performing Arts in Ventura and UCSB’s Director of Choral Studies. 

“It’s a celebration of everything to showcase our incredibly talented students and faculty,” Bayrakdarian said. “It’s really wonderful to have all the elements come together – the choir, the dance, the soloist, and the orchestra. Everything enhances everything else.” 

Excerpts from Handel’s Sosarme, Alcina,and Rodrigo are followed by selections from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, both featuring soloists, chorus, and dancers. Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro gets extended exposure via six solos, duets, and ensemble pieces to close out the first half. 

Post-intermission brings a special treat featuring Scene 1 Introduction of Daniel’s Prayer, a contemporary multimedia opera based on the Book of Daniel by UCSB’s Corwin Chair of Composition João Pedro Oliveira that features 14 UCSB dancers, UCSB alumna April Amante in the title role, and visual multimedia. 

“It’s an electroacoustic opera, a fantastic piece, and something very different for the audience,” Bayrakdarian said.

The Choral Showcase, with music by Joseph Bologne and Mozart, whets the appetite for the final performance, the Act 1 finale from Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which Bayrakdarian said is a riveting end to the evening. 

“Amazingly, all six singers are so right for the roles,” she said. “It was just going to be a concert performance, but it evolved into being semi-staged to allow the students creativity in movement. They were able to do something very interesting with it and the music is just divine.”

Coincidentally, the finale features real-life husband-and-wife Colin and Christina Ramsey as Guglielmo and Dorabella. 

“It’s just so fun to watch the wooing between them, because it’s real,” Bayrakdarian said.

The goal for the event is not only to showcase the students but also foster community connections and enhance UCSB’s status as a music school, she said. 

“It’s an amazing department, with so many talented students, who get individualized attention because we’re so small,” she said. “Audiences will get a chance to see that for themselves at Opera Gala.” 

Visit www.music.ucsb.edu/events/calendar


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