The massive work going into “Cendrillon” reflects much of what makes the company’s productions so special and unusual: undergraduate students drawn to the arts, regardless of their experience, coming together to feed their passion while working as a team to produce a high-quality opera.
“Most of the time, opportunities for undergraduates to perform opera are really limited,” said Samuel Rosner ’20, one of the lead actors in the production. “Conservatory productions tend to focus on their graduate students. … It’s so nice to have this opportunity that’s so focused on undergraduates and how they can make music together.”
Since the production is entirely student-run (undergraduate cast, production team, and orchestra), the students tackle all the creative and technical work. They select the opera the previous April, conceptualize every piece of it, budget it, cast it, and stage it. During the fall, they hammer out details like choreography or props. In January, they put the show together and run full rehearsals.
The company has about 80 members. As in any well-organized production company, each of them holds specific roles based on experience and interest. These range from becoming cast members to designers to producers, such as Jessica Shand ’21, who coordinates public relations. Other producers oversee set production and finances, such as deciding ticket prices.
Yet just because members hold specific titles doesn’t mean their roles stop there. One of the strengths of the opera company is its culture of teamwork, especially to solve problems.
“We kind of just pick up work wherever it needs to get done,” said Shand, who also plays flute for the orchestra.
That willingness to jump in and help each other is almost a trademark of the company, some members said. It’s why the stage director ran through the lighting cues with some of the cast, and why the musical director, Benjamin P. Wenzelberg ’21, didn’t hesitate to help when Paz needed to adjust the train of her glitter-covered dress. And it’s why cast members were happy to help build the set after finishing rehearsals, said assistant technical director Serena Chen ’22 as she and technical director Jonathan Castillo ’21 painted part of a 16-foot platform while the cast went for lunch.
“It was wonderful to see everyone collectively join together,” Castillo added.
The experience helps members of the company fully understand the production process and expand their skills while also connecting with their classmates.
“Being here [in January], you really watch this show develop from its very beginnings in not that long of a time,” Rosner said. “It allows us to get to know each other in a very special way. I think being so involved in the process of putting the show up allows you to fill other roles in the organization.”
Snow and Wenzelberg can attest to that, as they have filled multiple roles during their time with the company. They now hold the two most important staff positions in the production. Their rise shows the opportunity there for all company members, even those new to opera.
Take Ruva Chigwedere ’21, who’s playing one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. The role is her first in an opera, and she feels she’s been fully supported and welcomed.