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Ohio State’s opera director wants people to experience, embrace opera

Students in the Opera and Lyric Theater Program perform Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in 2015. Credit: Courtesy of David Heasley

On Oct. 27, the Department of Music at Ohio State premiered “Opera Americana: Scenes from the American Lyric Theatre” in Weigel Hall. The show was a collection of three acts from rarely heard modern American operas: “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night” and “A Quiet Place.”

While these names might be familiar for some and unfamiliar for most, Alan Scott Parry, director of the opera and lyric theater program, wants to highlight the tradition of staged drama comprised entirely of vocal performance.

“This tradition has been around a long time,” Parry said.

Even outside of Ohio State’s program, Parry is known for his operatic work. He has a master’s degree in opera stage direction and continues to work with opera companies across the country, as well as with Ohio State students.

“I realized that Scott Parry was the director of the OSU lyric theater, and that obviously got me interested in auditioning. I’d worked with him before, professionally,” Kimberly Monzon, a third-year graduate student in musical arts, said. “I would say working with Scott Parry is the jewel of the program.”

While some people might see opera as something that can only be understood or appreciated by wealthier and well-educated people, Parry and others in the Ohio State program see it as a relatable form of expression.

“You look at ‘Oklahoma,’ and it sounds like midcentury America, and now we have music like ‘Hamilton’ and it sounds very like now,” Parry said. “Opera is just doing the very same thing that musical theater is doing, except it has a much longer history.”

The music and themes are ones to which people today can still relate, even if the shows were written in the 1700s.

“The subject matter that we’re dealing with, we’re looking at alcohol abuse, we’re looking at mental health issues, we’re looking at sexual identity, we’re looking at family dynamics, the idea of mortality,” Parry said. “This isn’t some rarified thing, it’s really just everyday issues and it’s just human beings telling a story with music.”

Opera is not just a product of culture hundreds of years ago, as there are still operas being written and performed today. The “Opera Americana” show featured scenes from shows written in America since 1975. Many shows are in English, and those that are not can feature subtitles.

It’s not just the audiences who may find opera more accessible than they expected, but students interested in performing. All of the shows have open casting, so anyone can audition for a role, even if they are not a part of the music department.

“I think anyone can be a part of it. We’re open for participation with any students on campus who would like to be a part of the program, either in a performing capacity or a production capacity,” Parry said. “I’m very interested in being very inclusive in my approach.”

Parry’s commitment to inclusivity carries over into how he treats his students — he just wants them to be the best they can be.

“He’s such a committed educator, he really thinks about the students coming into the program and cares about giving them the best education that he can,” Monzon said. “He’s worth working with, for any student that comes in, at any level.”

While the opera and lyric theater program may have just recently wrapped up a show, they are already working on their next performance. This spring, they will be presenting “The Marriage of Figaro,” a well-known opera written by Mozart.

 

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