UM opera students sing on despite performance limitations

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Posted at 2:09 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 16:09:49-04

MISSOULA — A sea of empty seats, a masked singer, and a cell phone steadily recording a live concert; this is the scene of a present-day opera.

“It’s been quite a journey,” said UM opera director Anne Basinski.

Since the start of the school year last fall, Basinski has spent her time rewriting the song of the opera department.

That meant finding new ways for her students to perform, and she delivered. From virtual performances to outdoor happy hours, the department continued sharing their gift of song with the public.

“There are things that we have tried that we're going to keep,” said Basinski. “Throughout the year, we have all taken this very similar path, and these masks have allowed us to be together and sing.”

She sings a tune of optimism, a feeling that’s rubbed off on her students who are performing via livestream Thursday night but make no mistake, beneath the vibrato, the performers are ready for the pandemic to take its final bow.

“I can’t help but think the connection’s a little lost,” said grad student and opera singer Miguel Angel Olivas.

The singer remembers the first time he ever saw an opera. It was a moment that ultimately led him to UM’s opera program.

“When I saw him just, you know, just this, this man on the stage just being able to fill up a 3,000 seat auditorium no problem, I thought to myself if he can do that I want to do that one day,” Olivas told MTN News.

For Olivas, opera is an outlet, especially in times like these, but performing in a virtual concert is also a reminder of the pandemic’s toll on the arts.

“For example, I'm singing the solo, the aria, from Puccini, and it's the first time Rodolfo and Mimi meet, and they fall in love instantly. You can' know it's like I'm trying to bring this vulnerable moment, because we've all been there where we fall in love for the first time, and taking away that connection from's difficult,” said Olivas. “You know, I haven't seen my mother in a long time, and just like a hug, just seeing someone smile, it's devastating.”

Despite limitations placed on the arts, these students will continue sharing their voices, Basinski hopes the hardships only inspire them to become what she calls “citizen artists.”

“Whether an audience is there or not, the fact that someone's watching, that's the point, you know, because we can all sing for ourselves, but that's like writing in a diary, it's meant to be shared,” said Olivas.

The UM opera department will offer two more concerts before the end of the year. Both outdoors on April 16 and April 23. You can find details here.

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