The Norman Transcript

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Singing in Italian in front of Italians may be intimidating, but a challenge that University of Oklahoma opera students had to accept during their three-week learning experience in the prestigious Opera Viva! program this summer.

Opera Viva! in Verona, Italy gives students the chance to study under famous opera performers and teachers from around the globe, such as Cecilia Gasdia and Ashley Putnam, well-known sopranos, the Norman Transcript reported ( ). Students take classes such as acting, Italian language, Italian diction, voice lessons and musical coaching. Additionally, students attend three operas at Arena di Verona, which is a Roman amphitheater in Piazza Bra internationally famous for its large-scale opera performances. This summer, students saw “Aida,” “Turandot” and “The Masked Ball.”

“There are singers from all over. It really gives students a taste of where they are and answers `How good am I?’,” said University of Oklahoma School of Music Stage Director of Opera William Ferrara, who traveled with students to Italy and taught acting.

A total of 10 students from the University of Oklahoma were accepted in the program, five at each of the program’s two sessions. Auditions are required to be accepted to Opera Viva! and one out of five attendees this summer were from the Oklahoma college. Undergraduate students Tayler Bolton, Carolena Lara and Avery Felton along with graduate students Shannon Kaye and Megan Wagner attended the first session. Undergraduates Natalie Mason, Michael Bailey, Kevin Slavin, Mackenzie Cunningham and Catherine Pierce are currently at the second session.

“These kids have never been to Italy before, never been to a professional opera program,” Ferrara said. “And in Verona, there are the gorgeous old churches and the art and wonderful food, the outdoor cafe culture. So I think just as important as all the musical classes for these students is the cultural immersion.”

During their studies, students must also perform showcases at various venues, such as Sant’Anastasia, which is the church of the Dominican Order in Verona.

“There is nothing like singing opera in Italy,” Ferrara said. “It’s in the air. It’s so … everybody knows all the singers, the words, the arias. It’s just there, just part of the culture. It’s like smelling the garlic.”

On top of perfecting their Italian and performance skills, students at Opera Viva! learn about career development in the entertainment business. Ferrara said students learn how to audition, how to build a resume, how to file taxes as a professional singer, how to network and promotional skills.

After their trip, Ferrara said students are inspired but serious and have gained self-confidence.

“They know what their job is. They’re focused on learning and much more passionate,” he said.

The students’ trip was made possible in part by the University of Oklahoma Musical Theatre/Opera Guild that donated $1,000 to each Opera Viva! participant from the college. This is the second year of a three-year commitment the guild has made to both university’s musical theatre program and opera program for international travel.

“We have a long history of supporting the university’s musical theatre and opera programs as far back as when they were one program,” said the University of Oklahoma Musical Theatre/Opera Guild treasurer Breck Turkington.

Helping opera students attend an international program like Opera Viva! was an easy decision, Turkington said.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” Turkington said. “We’re a group that actively supports students. Our members want to see their money going right back to students.”

Ferrara said many of his colleagues at Opera Viva! are impressed by the large amount of support the guild provides.

“My colleagues from these fancy schools say to me, `You have an opera guild that gives scholarships _ they are very impressed! And they say that they’re going to get theirs to do the same at places like University of Michigan or Rice University, these well-funded universities are blown-away.

“Bless the opera guild. It makes it possible for kids who come from modest backgrounds to be able to afford a trip like this and afford the tuition of a program like this,” Ferrara said.

In addition to the funds provided by the University of Oklahoma Musical Theatre/Opera Guild, students applied for Presidential Scholarships for International Study, which paid for the plane ticket, Ferrara explained.

Ferrara enjoys an international reputation as a stage director and acting and directing teacher for opera. In his 30-year career he has directed more than 150 productions of plays, musicals, and operas at colleges and professional theaters in the US, Italy, and South America. His new textbook “Staging Scenes from the Operas of Mozart: A Guide for Teachers and Singers” is available in print and e-book from Scarecrow Press and

This opera season students will perform one of Mozart’s early works “La Finta Giardiniera,” which is a dark comedy, October 2-5 with a matinee showing on Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. and Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. All other performances will be in the evening. During the spring semester, students will perform a concert version of Carmen, which is set for the first weekend of February.

To learn more about the University of Oklahoma Musical Theatre/Opera Guild and the many ways the group helps students, such as scholarships, opening night receptions and performance attendance, contact Turkington at


Information from: The Norman Transcript,