English opera breaks barriers

One Northern Kentucky University professor is challenging common perceptions of opera.
Grant Knox, an assistant professor of voice and opera, wove the show “An Evening of Opera in English” together by combining musical selections from eight different operas.

The show has one set that takes place in the home of a woman who is making preparations to throw a party, so no set changes are necessary. Instead, each scene is marked by guests arriving at the party and the events that ensue. With the exception of one from the Czech opera “The Bartered Bride,” the score consists of music from operas originally written in English.

“We train to sing in Italian and French and German, and we don’t really spend enough time singing in our own language,” Knox said.
Junior music education and special education major Andrew Whelan, who will perform in the show, said he enjoys singing opera in foreign languages.
However, he said that one nice thing about singing in English is that he does not have to think about the libretto, or the words to a musical composition, since it is written in his native tongue.

Whelan said he thinks audiences might be engaged in an English show because it will be easier to understand.
“It’s a great way for non-operagoers to get their feet wet in the world of opera,” said junior vocal performance major Jamie Martin.
English opera is relatively new and tends to be more challenging to sing than opera in other languages, Knox said.
A common criticism of opera singers, Knox said, is that they cannot act.

“There’s much less of a divide between opera and musical theater than there used to be,” Knox said.

According to Whelan, the acting is not much of a challenge for him – something he attributes to Knox’s casting abilities.

Another factor that fosters impressive performances is the lighthearted nature of the show and the mood of the cast. According to Martin, energy is high when the cast gets together, and “there is a lot of laughter.”

Students will perform “An Evening of Opera in English” at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 and 18 in Fine Arts Center in Room 378. The shows are free and open to the public.