In praise of opera
Recent alumnus Beth Coopey describes her surprise discovery of Opera during her studies, and how that changed everything…
I arrived at the University of Southampton with little interest in opera. I had sung a selection of arias but knew little about the operas from which they came. That soon changed: my opera experience here has been so immersive and wide-ranging that I am leaving as (probably!) a lifelong opera lover. Opera and other forms of musical theatre are research and teaching strengths of the Music Department and staff are keen to share their knowledge and expertise. I have studied a wide range of opera modules: from the birth of the multimedia entertainment in Europe from 1600 to 1750; to the fathers of nineteenth century Italian opera – Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi; to Britain’s very own Britten; and finally the development of the American musical.
I decided to write my final year dissertation on nineteenth-century Italian opera. Choosing the somewhat neglected Donizetti I delved into the characters of Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, and the way they are portrayed in the finales of Donizetti’s three ‘Tudor” operas. After almost a year of reading about, examining, listening to, and watching these operas I finished more fascinated by opera than ever.
My choice of Donizetti’s “Tudor” operas was largely due to my experience of Anna Bolena performed by Welsh National Opera at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. The Music Department arranges regular group outings to the Mayflower: during my time at university I also got to see Carmen, Moses in Egypt, La Traviata, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, attending with other students, friends, and staff for £5 a ticket.
Performance workshops with Welsh National Opera’s Mary King and Kevin Short were inspirational. They supported the work I was doing in my university singing lessons and highlighted important areas such as stage presence, breathing and support, and pronunciation. For my third year recital I created a programme of Mozart arias interspersed with Italian songs and arias. Mozart arias are my favourites to sing, with their unforgettable melodies and engaging characterisation.
A number of University of Southampton student societies exist to perform musical theatre and opera, including Showstoppers and the Light Operatic society. A new Chamber Opera society has just been set up (small plug here as my friend is its President), offering further opportunities for performers and stage crew. Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas will be their début production.
I am moving to London to train as a secondary music teacher and am excited by the prospect of indulging in all the opera and musical theatre that the capital has to offer. I want to share my love of opera with my own future students and expose them to a genre of music that I had little contact with when I was at school. Opera was for me a surprise discovery – a much larger than expected part of my degree and wider social life while I was at university – but now I am hooked I expect it to stay that way.