Students find 'rewarding challenges' in Southeastern's 'The Marriage of Figaro,' March 13-15
Contact: Christina Chapple
Click on thumbnail for high resolution photo(1) (2) (3) (4)
(1) TRUE LOVE – Blair Abene of Hammond and Colby McCurdy of Slidell have the lead roles of Susannah and Figaro in the Southeastern Louisiana University production of “The Marriage of Figaro.”
(2) THE COUNTESS -- Cassie Arnold of Bedico portrays Countess Almaviva in the Southeastern Louisiana University Opera/Music Theatre Workshop’s March 13-15 production of “The Marriage of Figaro.”
(3) COUNTESS WOES – Blair Abene of Hammond, left, as Susannah, comforts a despondent Countess Almaviva, Christina Babin of Prairieville, in the Southeastern Louisiana University Opera/Music Theatre Workshop’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”
(4) TUG-OF-WAR – Blair Abene of Hammond as Susannah, center, is in a tug-of-war between Tyrone Hayes of New Orleans, left, as Count Almaviva and Brandon Wear of Slidell as Don Basilio during a rehearsal for the Southeastern Louisiana University production of “The Marriage of Figaro.”
HAMMOND – Their roles as the lead characters in “The Marriage of Figaro” are the most difficult that they have tackled in their young musical careers – but in the challenges lie the rewards.
That is the shared sentiment of Blair Abene, Colby McCurdy, Cassie Arnold, Christina Babin and Tyrone Hayes, who respectively play Susannah, Figaro, and the Countess and Count Almaviva in the Southeastern Louisiana University Opera/Music Theatre Workshop’s upcoming production of Mozart’s beloved classic opera.
“The Marriage of Figaro” will be staged March 13-15 at Southeastern’s Pottle Music Building Auditorium. Curtain time is 7 p.m. and tickets, available at the door beginning one hour prior to each performance, are $14, adults, and $10, senior citizens, Southeastern faculty, staff, alumni and non-Southeastern students. Southeastern students will be admitted free with their university I.D.
Asked about the challenges and rewards of starring in “Figaro,” the five voice students agreed that the difficulty of the music is the challenge, but that meeting the challenge is the reward.
“Technically, the music is really difficult,” said Arnold, a senior from Bedico who is double-cast with Babin as the Countess. Arnold’s Southeastern musical career has included performance in eight show, including “The Sound of Music,” “A little Night Music,” and “The Face on the Barroom Floor.”
“This is the biggest role I’ve ever had,” she said. “The music is very tonal, but very technically hard. But it is rewarding that I’ve gotten a lot better in my technique.”
Babin, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Southeastern last December, and anticipates beginning graduate studies later this year, said learning to master recitative – the speech-like singing that classic opera uses for dialogue and narrative – has been her “rewarding challenge.”
“With any show that you’re in you improve, no matter what the music calls for,” said Babin, whose Southeastern credits include “Dido and Aeneas,” “The Tender Land,” “She Loves Me,” and last spring’s uproarious “Too Many Sopranos.” “This one,” said the Prairieville resident, “is especially difficult because a lot of us are not used to singing so much ‘recit.’ But the reward is that now we do know how to do it.”
Abene, who is from Hammond and has appeared in “The Sound of Music,” “La Divina,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and “Too Many Sopranos,” said combining acting and singing was her rewarding challenge.
“The characters I’ve played have been, well, obnoxious or in your face,” laughed Abene. “The Sandman in ‘Too Many Sopranos’ was a fairy-like, bouncy, fun character meant to be laughed at. In ‘Forum’ I was the not-too-bright Philia. My ‘Figaro’ character Susanna isn’t over-the-top like the others. She is the glue that holds everything together, more assertive, more of a real life person. She is a lot like me, actually, but it’s hard to translate that to the stage and make it big and understandable to the audience.”
But, as the rewarding trade-off, “We’ve all grown a lot musically and in the acting realm,” she said. “Now that we are starting to finally put it all together and do full runs of the show, I realize, ‘Oh my God, I’ve kind of got this!’”
McCurdy, who is from Slidell and has also appeared “The Tender Land,” “Dido and Aeneas,” “Too Many Sopranos,” and “Forum,” agreed with Abene that “embracing the character” is challenging. He also said he has struggled to balance the demands of the opera with his other university classes and work schedule.
“I never really considered trying to do opera as a career path until we started doing this opera,” he said. “I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. I can’t get over that if I didn’t have to also go to class, didn’t have to go to work what a great career this would be!”
Unique among his cast mates, “The Marriage of Figaro” marks a Southeastern opera debut for Tyrone Hayes of New Orleans. A graduate student who has already earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of New Orleans where he appeared in shows such as “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” “Gianni Schicchi,” and “Porgy and Bess,” Hayes followed to Southeastern his former UNO professor David Bernard, now a member of Southeastern’s voice faculty.
He echoed Babin’s opinion about the rewards of experience in performing recitative, but said his big “Forum” challenge is bringing the “mean” to his character, Count Almaviva.
“It is really hard for me to be mean because that’s just not in my nature,” he said, as his cast members laughed in agreement.
Ultimately, however, he summed up the cast members’ sentiments -- “The reward is the technique growth.
“One of my voice teachers used to say that if you want improve your technique, sing Mozart,” he said.
“We’ve been stretched this time,” said Arnold, “but it is amazing to know what you’re capable of.”
The student singers think that the enduring popularity of “The Marriage of Figaro” will draw large audiences for the three shows. Southeastern’s production, under the stage direction of guest director Rachel Harris and musical director Chuck Effler, will stress the all the humor of the twisting-turning plot with its comic intrigue, mistaken identities, secret meetings, jealous husbands, and scheming servants.
“And, of course,” said Effler, “there’s Mozart’s glorious music – music that perfectly evokes each character’s mood and situation, and brilliantly illustrates each comic twist of the plot.”