by John Davis
Texas Tech music students take Mozart opera on the road to South America.
Gerald Dolter is director of music theatre, chair of the vocal division and an associate professor of music in the Texas Tech University School of Music.
Andrew George is director of orchestras and associate professor of conducting in the Texas Tech University School of Music.
Top photo: (l-r) Fiordiligi (Catherine Swindle), Dorabella (Kaitlin Hatchett), Ferrando (Neal Patel), and Guglielmo (John Daugherty).
She stood behind the set, holding a necklace in her hand and waiting for her cue to perform not only in front of 400 people in the audience but also on live Honduran television.
As the orchestra began and the curtain rose, Kaitlin Hatchett, a music education and vocal performance major from Midland, said she realized her dream to make a living as a singer could become reality.
The 21-year-old actress played Dorabella, one of the gullible sisters in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s classic comic opera “Così fan tutte,” which translates roughly to “The School for Lovers“ or “Thus Do They All,” and remarks on the fickle nature of women.
In this Italian opera, a miserly bachelor explains to two soldiers that women can’t be trusted and will prove unfaithful every time. These two men are dating sisters, and decide to test the bachelor’s theory and pretend to run off to war.
They return dressed as exotic new suitors from Albania who have taken poison and need medical attention. As the sisters help these strange exotic new men, the soldiers in disguise try to woo and win the heart of the other man’s woman. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the men are more duplicitous than the women.
Texas Tech students, under the direction of Texas Tech’s music theatre director Gerald Dolter, not only performed last March in Midland, but also in June at the Manuel Bonilla National Theatre in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
Bill Ballenger, director of Texas Tech’s School of Music, provided $20,000 from the school to cover the company’s traveling budget and per diem. Sets, hotel and local transportation were covered by Honduras’ National Symphony Orchestra.
“Così fan tutte” presented two firsts for Texas Tech and one for the country of Honduras, he said. The performance at the Wagner Noël Center for the Performing Arts in Midland was the first staged production in that new center. The Midland Opera had sponsored many of Texas Tech’s main stage productions and children’s opera through the years, but never one of this standing and scope.
The production at the Manuel Bonilla National Theatre in Honduras was the first international appearance for Texas Tech Music Theatre. The two performances were fully staged and costumed, and the final performance was broadcast on national television. And this was the first time any Mozart opera was performed in Honduras.
The production at the Manuel Bonilla National Theatre was the first international appearance for Texas Tech Music Theatre. Click image to enlarge.
“We were just surprised we were there in the first place,” Hatchett said of her experience. “I was not expecting the school would let us go. I didn’t believe it until we were on the plane. Then I thought we were going to be in a gymnasium, but we were in an actual old opera house–this beautiful building.”
This was Hatchett’s first opera. In fact, her first lead role. Representatives from several governments, including ambassadors from Italy and Japan, sat in the audience as TV cameras rolled. The music swelled, Hatchett waited for her cue, smiling across the set to her best friend who also performed that night, she couldn’t believe her fortune at experiencing a professional company atmosphere at such a young age.
“All the people were so nice,” she said. “Everyone volunteered to be stagehands and chorus. They were so excited to do this opera, because they’d never had an opera come down from the United States before. That was pretty exciting. I didn’t even know anything about the chorus or conductor. The orchestra was one of the best I’d ever heard. I didn’t expect any of that–how nice they would be, how excited they would be. It was the perfect experience.”
Hatchett was one of a troupe of nine singers and five instrumentalists from the School of Music who traveled to Honduras for the performance. Behind the glamour of a glittering opera, she said, lots of hard work went into preparing and perfecting the product before performing it in a house they’d never worked in before. Even though sometimes she could barely keep her eyes open to enjoy the tours and other experiences that South America had to offer, she said she loved every back-breaking minute.
“I could actually visualize this being a real career path,” she said. “Before, we just sang at Texas Tech in front of our friends. Then suddenly, you hop on a plane and sing in front of a conductor you don’t know, a chorus you don’t know. It was really just thrilling to be a part of all of it, especially to represent Texas Tech in a positive way for the School of Music and to bring that opera they’d never experienced in that city. I was very touched to be involved in everything. I took away a lot more than I thought I would.”
Diplomacy of Art
The idea to take an opera production from Lubbock to Central America began in the summer of 2011 in Honduras. Andrew George, Texas Tech’s director of orchestral activities, and Jorge Gustavo Mejia, conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Honduras, collaborated on the idea of the University Symphony Orchestra performing one of Mejia’s compositions at Texas Tech in February of 2012. Mejia, a prominent composer in Honduras, came for that performance of “Danza, Magia y Ritual (Dance, Magic and Ritual).” Following that, Mejia extended the official invitation for bringing “Così fan tutte” to Honduras.
Despina (Aimee Pineau), disguised as a notary, spells out the conditions of the double wedding contract during the Texas Tech Music Theatre's production of the Mozart opera “Così fan tutte.” Click image to enlarge.
Texas Tech’s School of Music has a successful history of projects in Central America, including outreach and educational trips in May 2005 and 2006, and more recently in 2011 and 2012, George said. During those projects, Texas Tech faculty worked with more than 1,000 student and professional musicians, ranging from 10 years old to 42, and collaborated with all of the prominent musical organizations in Honduras: Filarmónica de Honduras, Escuela Nacional de Música, Conservatorio de Música and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras.
“In the course of the past seven years, the Texas Tech string area has experienced a dramatic increase in graduate applicants from Central America,” George said, explaining the outreach projects’ effects. “Students from Central America have been among those highest ranked in TTU auditions. The training level of string players in Honduras is extraordinarily high, but only extends through the undergraduate level. The faculty teaching at all three prominent Honduran educational institutions do not hold graduate degrees. These musicians are eager for more.”
The goals of these projects are beneficial to students and faculty, and participants are encouraged to create and implement their own pedagogical ideas, using imaginative ways to communicate through words and sound.
“As we help the musicians of Honduras, we give an opportunity to our graduate students to explore the positive effects that they can have on a community, stressing the importance of educational outreach and global musical endeavors outside of the classroom,” George said. “Our faculty has an opportunity to show their skills as performers and teachers, and recruit for further studies at Texas Tech. Our efforts thus far have had a lasting impact on parties in both countries, and we are excited we have been invited for multiple years to return.”
For Dolter, directing the show and finding a way to get the students to South America proved one of the greatest challenges he’s faced as director of the ensemble. The good news was “Così fan Tutte” had already been performed at Texas Tech and would travel to Midland for several performances.
When Dolter selects a show for his students to perform, he said he never does so with himself in mind. Each year, he peruses scripts and scores to match the right students with the right parts to give them the experience they will need to go into the cutthroat world of show business and create successful careers.
Kaitlin Hatchett, seen here as Dorabella in “Così fan tutte,” was one of nine singers and five instrumentalists from the School of Music who traveled to Honduras to perform. Click image to enlarge.
And with the right cast in place, the opportunity to travel the show would be a priceless experience for performers and musicians who would travel to Honduras to perform.
“No one in the group had any experience performing outside of Texas,” Dolter said. “And all the better to now be going to a new country, and these Hondurans takes their art seriously. I wanted to give the students this professional credit on their resume. It’s an international gig. They had put their roles aside for three months and then get back to them for two performances down there. This they did. I think we had better shows all the way around when they had to come back to their roles. They discovered new parts of their characters that way. And then there was the foreign exchange experience I wanted them to have, as well as to see how wonderful our life is in this country.
“They got more from this than any experiences on campus.”
Standing before him like the great Andes, mountains of semantics and questions of how to transport an opera 1,600 miles away still remained to be answered. How much would it cost to ship the troupe and costumes to Honduras? How would they handle the set? Designing the lights and sound? How could the requirements for setting the show be met with such a short lead time? How would they translate the Italian words from the music into Spanish correctly?
What if something went wrong with any of these issues?
Dolter admitted these questions kept him up at night. But, he said, he took comfort in the talent and inventiveness of his students and their desire to meet the challenge head-on.
“After Maestro Mejia extended an invitation to the national theatre, then it was a matter of cost,” Dolter said. “The set would have cost $12,000 to ship to Honduras, and that was impossible. So, I sent them renderings of what our set looked like in the hopes they could build it. They told us they had an architect who was pretty good at working with renderings. I didn’t know what we were going to end up with, so I told the students that we have to be prepared for everything and anything.
“We walked in, and there was our complete set, painted exactly how it was painted in Texas. Every element was there, including exact replicas of our benches we’ve used here for years. The students said, ‘OK, let’s get to work.’ So, then, the next big thing for me was I had to work with a Spanish-speaking-only chorus in this show. We had just 48 hours to rehearse them and put them on stage. That was a trick, but we got it there.”
Students went to work preparing for the audience. Some learned an antiquated light board and designed lights while others prepared costumes and set the stage. Dolter said other students not only had to learn how to stage-manage, but also learned Spanish on the fly and communicated their needs to a Spanish-speaking-only stage crew to keep backstage running as smoothly as onstage.
“Before the final performance began, the TV crew was there,” Dolter said. “They came backstage with cameras and were interviewing singers as they were about to go on. It was like ‘Live at The Met.’ It made the performers feel like they’d arrived. And they had.
“When it was all over and I crawled into bed, I slept very well. I knew this would not have happened without help of the students. As with all art, what we create is meant to be shared, otherwise, why do it? Our production of Mozart’s ‘Così fan tutte’ proved to be the most significant operatic production in my 17 years at Texas Tech.”
Texas Tech School of Music
Texas Tech's School of Music is part of the College of Visual & Performing Arts. The school is led by nationally and internationally recognized artists, educators and researchers and provides educational opportunities for music majors and non music majors, as well as musical art and cultural events to Texas Tech, Lubbock and the surrounding community.
The faculty consists of performing specialists on all band and orchestral instruments, as well as piano, voice, organ, harp and guitar. Additionally, there are specialists in conducting, composition, electronic music, music education, musicology, world musics and music theory.
Texas Tech music graduates have distinguished themselves in a variety of ways, from winning Fulbright Scholarships to performing professionally. Many are outstanding teachers in public schools, colleges and universities while others have achieved fame in specialized areas such as electronic music, or by performance on the Metropolitan Opera stage.
The School of Music is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Music and offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in music. A new offering for the school is the Bachelor + Masters Program in Music Education. This program allows exceptional students to enroll in specified hours that count toward both the Bachelor of Music Leading to Teacher Certification degree and the Master of Music Education degree.
John Davis is a Senior Writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing at Texas Tech University. Contributing author Liza Muse is a Senior Specialist in the School of Music at Texas Tech University. Photos courtesy School of Music.