â�?�?Opera Boot Campâ�?�? ends with performances By Patrick Morrison
Plain Talk The inaugural South Dakota Vocal Arts Festival came to a close Aug. 1, marking the end of 10 straight days of lessons, rehearsals and seminars by 14 aspiring musical theater artists. "We've jokingly referred to this as 'Opera Boot Camp' because the participants are busy all day long and into the evening," said Tracelyn Gesteland, co-director of the festival and assistant professor of music at USD. The Vocal Arts Festival began July 22 and focused on instructing the participants in many aspects of musical theater, Gesteland said. The program culminated in two public performances on Friday, July 31 and Saturday, Aug. 1 at the Colton Recital Hall in the College of Fine Arts. Gesteland said she was very pleased with the first year of the program. "It's been amazing to watch all of these different levels of singers come together and pull this off in such a short period of time," she said. "They have been working hard and are open to direction. It's been really, really exciting to watch them grow as artists." Rick Piersall, program co-director and assistant professor of music, agreed. "Their work ethic has been one of the things that has surprised me the most," he said. "There have been no jobs too big for them this week." Larry Schou, interim dean of the USD College of Fine Arts, said he was excited to see the festival evolve from a concept created last summer by Gesteland and Piersall to a full-fledged musical theater program. "I was interested in this program because it wasn't just a pigeonholed concept, but rather a multi-faceted concept," Schou said. "That allowed us to develop the program for students ranging from high school to graduate school. We're hoping this is the first of many years we have this at USD." Schou also said the Vocal Arts Festival was a way for Gesteland and Piersall to showcase musical theater for the community at large. "Their excitement in part is to get people to understand that everyone can understand opera if they take the time to appreciate the different facets of it," Schou said. "I think this program will help the Vermillion community to understand some of those facets." Those many facets of musical theater include presenting several genres of performances, including Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," Amadeus Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus." "It's the whole gamut in what goes on in musical theater," Piersall said. "We have something from everything so the participants have a wide variety of background on what goes into the lyric theater in the United States." In addition to rehearsing and performing musical theater pieces, Gesteland said the participants worked closely with Piersall and herself, as well as guest clinicians from various parts of the country. Kaitlyn Erickson, a festival participant from Yankton High School, said she was impressed by the private lessons with Gesteland and Piersall. "They really helped me learn about warm-up techniques, how to select contest solos and how to advance in the career of opera," Erickson said. "I am looking forward to taking what I learned here and share it with other high school students." Kristin Edwards, an incoming senior at USD, said the highlight of the festival for her was being able to explore opera in-depth and to work with participants from a wide range of ages. "It's been an exhausting process, but we are having a good time getting to know people from across the Midwest and across age ranges," Edwards said. "Working with the different age groups has been extremely helpful for everybody because there is something to learn from everyone, regardless of their experience level." Although the first Vocal Arts Festival has drawn to a close, Gesteland and Piersall said they already beginning the planning process for next year's program. "We're going to keep the same format that we used this year, but we hope to add to the staff so we can expose the students to more ideas and to help them build connections," Gesteland said. "We just want to continue to broaden the scale of the program." Piersall said that while there were several opportunities to see what they could change for next year, the general program went better than expected. "There are always things that we can see to do better for next year, but there weren't any "Uh-Oh" moments, which is amazing for a program in its first year," he said. In addition to the South Dakota Vocal Arts Festival, Schou said the music department plans on taking opera performances local communities in the future, such as the Opera House in Akron, IA. "What we need is more opportunities for our students; the more they perform, the better they get," Schou said. "The festival is now one important facet in the summer, but expanding our program further will just improve what we can offer to our students."