Opera Western Reserve production showcases local talent
Opera Western Reserve production director David Vosburgh sees the primary role of the opera company as educational.
“We take opera to the schools,” he said. “We use students at YSU (Youngstown State University) in the chorus and in small roles. We give singers an opportunity to sing these roles for the first time and add these parts to their resume.”
Those elements will be on display next week when OWR presents “Macbeth,” Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic version of the William Shakespeare tragedy. It will be staged Nov. 15 at Stambaugh Auditorium.
Six Dana School of Music students have small roles in the production, and the two leads both have local ties.
Baritone Michael Young, who plays Macbeth, is a Cortland native making his sixth appearance with OWR. Diana Farrell, who plays Lady Macbeth, earned her master’s degree in vocal performance from YSU and started out as a chorus member in OWR.
“It’s really exciting, really humbling to be back here,” she said. “I’ve seen so many great singers here that I looked up to when I was starting out. To do my dream role on that stage … well, I keep going back to the word humbling.”
Vosburgh said he had Farrell, who now lives in southern California, in mind when he first considered adding “Macbeth” to OWR’s schedule.
“She’s a wonderful colleague to work with,” he said. “She’s a wonderful actress. The only question was is she ready to sing the role, and she certainly is.”
Young — who studied at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music and is a former first prize winner of the Palm Beach Opera International Vocal Competition, the CCM Undergraduate Vocal Competition and the Corbett Vocal Competition — has sung several leading roles with the company over the years. That doesn’t make playing the title role in “Macbeth” any easier.
“It’s probably, if not the hardest, one of the hardest roles a baritone has to sing in opera,” Young said. “Macbeth is in nearly every scene. You don’t get a rest at any point in the show.”
The role of Lady Macbeth is no easier. Farrell said it has been called a voice killer because of its demanding range. A soprano has to sing parts better suited for a mezzo soprano.
“Every trick in your arsenal comes into play with no simple transitions,” she said. “It’s one part singing, one part acting and one part something else entirely.”
Young lives in Cincinnati, which is only five hours away, but he looks forward to his opportunities to come back to the Mahoning Valley.
“It’s nice to come home socially,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have the luxury of to return to their hometown for almost a month every year.
“This job is going to a new town every month and working with a new cast every month. In addition to being a homecoming for me, the people I work with here are some of the people I know best in the city. Even audience members you meet at after parties and donor receptions. You develop these local families in this industry, and I don’t think in most other professions you develop those kinds of relationships.”
There’s also a familiarity in working with Vosburgh and music director Susan Davenny Wyner.
“It’s like that relationship you have with really close friends,” Young said. “You can snap at each other and know that it’s fine.”
Farrell said she also is enjoying working in a more prominent role with the creative team.
“David and Susan are honed in on their style,” Farrell said. “They really are a duo. They come as a set and work well together.”
Other actors in the production include Jonathan Stuckey as Banquo, Jesus Daniel as Macduff and Benjamin Robinson as Malcolm. David Pratt will be playing the doctor, and Thomas O’Donnell will appear as King Duncan.
The opera company has used its young artists program as a training ground for vocalists, which is illustrated by this year’s cast. The Witches will be played by current and former OWR Young Artists Erika Duderstadt, Sierra McCorvey and Rebecca Enlow. And the Dama will be played another former OWR Young Artist, Lauren Corcoran Emrich.
Some of the language has been pared away and some characters have been consolidated, but the opera follows Shakespeare’s story of a Scottish general who, with encouragement from his wife, takes a murderous path to assume control of the throne, only to become increasingly delusional and paranoid.
The opera is sung in Italian with English subtitles projected above the action. The singers will be accompanied by an orchestra conducted by Wyner.
In the theater, it is considered bad luck to say the name of Shakespeare’s play in the theater except as part of the dialogue during a performance. Actors generally refer to “Macbeth” as “The Scottish Play” in the performance space. Farrell said she didn’t know if the same rules apply with opera.
“We were just talking about that,” she said. “We’ve been throwing that name around willy nilly and so far all the chandeliers still are in place and no one has fallen into the pit.”
If you go …
WHAT: Opera Western Reserve — Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15
WHERE: Stambaugh Auditorium, 1000 Fifth Ave., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $25 to $75 and are available at the Stambaugh box office, online at stambaughauditorium.com and by calling 330-259-0555.
ALSO: A pre-opera dinner will be served in the Jeanne D. Tyler Grand Ballroom starting at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 15. The four-course dinner will start with smoked salmon crostini followed by a salad featuring mandarin oranges, pomegranate and roasted beets with white balsamic vinaigrette. The evening’s entree is a grilled lamb chop paired with seared sea scallops complemented by Parmesan potato parsnip puree and honey glazed winter root vegetables (a vegetarian option is available). The meal finishes with chocolate torte drizzled with white chocolate and raspberry as well as hot coffee.
Tickets for the dinner are an additional $60, and reservations must be made by Tuesday.