Opera an inspiring scene for Kent student

Shauna Carter

Alexandra May thinks of high school as the time when her adoration for music and inspiration for theater began.

But it’s not musical theater that May’s interested in: It’s opera. May, a voice performance graduate student, is an aspiring opera singer who performs in operas at Kent State.

May said, however, that she was initially thinking about majoring in musical theater. While at Kent State, May studied classical music and “fell in love” with opera. From there, May said voice training was the next step, starting with an applied voice instructor.

“The first step in my development was learning how to sing,” May said, “(such as) getting the technique, breathing and tone quality down.”

Opera director Kerry Glann said he has seen May grow in her time here at Kent. Glann has worked with May not only with opera, but also in chorale.

“She has been here for six years,” Glann said. “I have watched her develop and am impressed with her ability not only with singing, but stage performance as well.”

Opera performances can last anywhere from one to three hours. May said in order to train for performing, operatic style is key.

“You have to master operatic style to endure singing,” May said. “It takes a lot of skill. You really don’t see opera singers in their early 20s with a bachelor’s degree going right into the profession.”

May said opera is the original musical theater. The difference between opera and musical theater is that a musical contains dialogue and singing. In opera, even the dialogue is sung.

“Musical theater is a newer form of opera,” May said. “It developed out of opera and other theater forms.”

Her next step in developing as an opera singer was acting, May said.

“We are singing actors. It is not just about singing,” May said. “The demand is high for young opera singers to be very engaging actors as well as beautiful singers.”

Glann said May knows how to bring a presence and intelligence to the stage.

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Kent State Opera Workshop
Opera Scenes will be performed by the Kent State Opera Workshop Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in the Wright-Curtis Theatre. Admission is free for students.

There will be seven scenes performed from operas such as: “The Duet for Two Cats,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Into the Woods.”

“She brings a high degree of confidence and expression,” Glann said. “She understands the needs of opera.”

May said teaching was the third step in becoming an opera singer.

“We all take pedagogy (the study of being a teacher), so that we can teach while performing,” May said. “Only a very small percentage can just perform.”

May, along with another voice graduate student, teaches a voice class at Kent State. It is an elective for non-music majors. May said it is a way for students to open up and that it teaches professionalism. She said teaching is also a way for her to continue to enhance her opera skills.

“Through teaching, you learn a lot about yourself with practicing what you preach,” May said.

Glann said May is aspiring to perform opera, and he feels she is well on her way to doing so.

May said economy has taken a toll on opera professionals. Opera Cleveland is closing its doors this season. Although an opera company is closing for a season, May said opera companies in Cleveland, such as Opera Circle and other smaller companies, and are active in putting on quality shows in smaller venues.

May said the opera is also using digital scenes in place of expensive furniture to adjust with today.

“Opera is not just large women with horns,” May said. “You are seeing lots of new, renovated ideas. It is not just standing and singing as it might be stereotyped to. It is emotional and human.”

May said she was in an opera before even seeing one. Her first opera at Kent was “Marriage of Figaro,” a comedic opera by Mozart.

One of May’s most memorable performances was last spring when she was in the opera “The Telephone,” a comedy opera about a man trying to purpose before leaving for a trip to see his girlfriend but cannot because she will not get off the telephone.

“It was the first time I thought I had enough skills as a singer and artist,” May said. “I had a handle on what I wanted to portray and bring out of a character. I felt comfortable where I was.”

May said the opera field is a challenge.

“It is a very competitive field and you really have to love it because you are going to meet a lot of rejection,” May said. “You are always going to have to be a student. You will always have to learn and take criticism.”

Contact Shauna Carter at [email protected].