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Opera at USC opens its season on November 2 with two comic operas

Composers Gian Carlo Menotti and Pauline Viardot offer a duo of great musical entertainment

Opera at USC offers a comprehensive program for both graduate and undergraduate students, covering every facet of opera production, both on stage and behind the scenes. Opera at USC presents two fully staged operas with orchestra each year and also presents an evening of One-Act Operas. It is most recently known for its production with USC Symphony Orchestra of Bernstein’s MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers.

The fall production includes both the comic Amelia al ballo, sung in Italian, and Cendrillon, sung in French. Both operas provide English supertitles (captions projected on the screen above the stage, translating the text being sung). Taking place at Drayton Hall on USC campus (1214 College St.) you have three chances to catch the professional production – November 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday matinee November 4 at 3:00 p.m.

Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) was convinced his first mature opera, composed at age 23, was going to be a flop. He had just graduated from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and was spending the summer visiting friends in Vienna when he began the libretto for the one-act opera buffa (comic opera) Amelia al ballo. But opera wasn’t fashionable in some circles at the time, and Menotti’s teacher at Curtis was contemptuous of the genre. Menotti lamented, “Well, I’ll just write this one opera and then I’ll start composing all my symphonies, masses, and motets.”

Amelia al ballo became Menotti’s first major success, and fortunately he went on composing many more operas. He won a Pulitzer Prize twice, for The Consul (1950) and for The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955), and was awarded the 1984 Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Achievement. Menotti founded the noted Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy, in 1958 and its American counterpart, Spoleto Festival USA, in 1977.

Composed in 1936 when Menotti was in his mid-twenties, Amelia al ballo was the composer’s first mature opera and first critical success. Amelia wants to go to the ball so badly, and she goes to great lengths to get there. Farcical events and even a passionate musical argument unfold as a young socialite plots to overcome the obstacles to get her there.

The charming and elegant Cendrillon, a quirky chamber operetta (short opera with a light or humorous theme) with dialogue in three acts, is based on the Cinderella story. The opera, with its beautiful melodies, includes a Prince, stepsisters, disguises, and of course, love. Born in Paris to a Spanish family of renowned performers and teachers of singing, the composer Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) was a well-known opera singer and accomplished pianist, who studied with Franz Liszt. Throughout her long career, Viardot interacted with some of the most important artistic figures of the time, including Frédéric Chopin, Charles Gounod, George Sand, and the Russian poet Ivan Turgenev.

She spoke fluent Spanish, French, Italian, English, German and Russian, and made her concert debut in Brussels as the “three-octave mezzo,” singing and accompanying her own compositions. These songs were later joined by her five operas, four choral works, more than 100 art songs, and about 15 instrumental works composed in a variety of national techniques. Her career took her to the best music halls across Europe.

When she was 83 in 1904, she premiered Cendrillon in her Paris salon. She wrote both the libretto and score for her final two operas, including her last, Cendrillon.


Adults: $25; seniors/USC faculty & staff/military: $20; students with ID: $10
Purchase tickets online or purchase at the door. Please note that online sales end at 3 p.m. on opening day. After that you may purchase at the door one hour before show.

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