Temple Opera Theater ranked No. 1 in the nation

Temple Opera Theater was awarded first place for the second year in a row at the National Opera Association’s competition earlier this year. The award was presented at an NOA conference in New York City.

Temple Opera Theater was awarded first place for the second year in a row at the National Opera Association’s competition earlier this year. The award was presented at an NOA conference in New York City.

The award marks a landmark for the opera, which had never placed in the NOA’s competition until last year. Temple took first place in level one for their production of Pietro Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz, directed by guest freelance director Laura Johnson and conducted by Temple Opera Theater Music Director John Douglas.

“We’ve been getting recognized by the only competition that does this kind of thing,” Douglas said and added that a big benefit is national visibility for the opera program.

L’Amico Fritz premiered in 1891 in Rome, Douglas said. Its stateside premiere was the following year in Philadelphia, which makes Temple’s award a fitting homecoming for the infrequently performed piece.

The opera is about “a slightly older landowner who is a sworn bachelor [but] falls in love with the daughter of one of his employees, and to the delight of many of his friends, eventually gets up the courage to declare it,” Douglas said. “She loves him too and all ends well. Beautiful, singable music mostly.”

Last year Temple Opera Theater won first place in level three for its production of Hansel and Gretel, which was performed in November 2002 and directed by Leland Kimball, the Artistic Director of OperaDelaware and conducted by Douglas.

The competition entries are separated into “levels based on budget and scale of resources used,” Douglas said, with level one being the highest and five the lowest.

NOA was founded in 1955 and seeks to promote a greater appreciation of opera and musical theater, according to their Web site. It has members around the globe and its competitions include entrants from colleges, universities, conservatories and small opera companies.

NOA holds opera, new opera and vocal competitions, runs national conventions and regional activities, grants money and has a scholarly journal, Douglas said.

Entries must be submitted on VHS tapes without the school’s name on it and are judged by “professionals and other academics who produce opera on either a professional or academic level.” Douglas has been a judge in other years in levels in which Temple did not compete.

The operas are judged in six categories: musical accuracy and style, quality of singing, quality of orchestra, director’s concept, quality of acting, and production values such as costumes, props, sets and lighting.

Douglas chooses the operas, and said, “I always pick repertoire with the idea of showcasing the specific voices I have at my disposal that term.”

Douglas, who has taught at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Central City Opera near Denver, Colo. and spent six seasons at the Chautauqua Opera Company, said he is very proud of the Temple Opera Theater’s accomplishments and the level of dedication students put into the operas.

“We have professional designers, but if we are not renting the sets, they are built, nailed, and painted by the students, with [Director of Production] Jamie Johnson’s professional crew of two or three hired hands, all former students who learned their skills here, supervising and helping. Furthermore, unlike all our competition, I have no professional music staff,” Douglas said.

“My staff is comprised of graduate students in a training program to learn the musical side of this business. Our graduate assistants work very hard and put in a full complement of hours. We do have a part time resident costume person pro, but much of the sewing is done by the grad assistants. We don’t even have a secretary – all that is done by office workers, too. It really is amazing that it all comes together,” Douglas said.

Julie Snyder, a graduate voice performance major in the master of music program, was in L’Amico Fritz and said she really appreciates participating in Temple’s operas.

“I got first hand knowledge of what it is like to put an opera together,” Snyder said, and added that she enjoyed “spending time with my friends doing what we all love to do the most.”

Tatyana Rashkovsky, a graduate opera major from Moscow, was in L’Amico Fritz and Albert Herring and said she most enjoyed “the preparation process, the creating the set, rehearsing. We’re involved in every part of putting the show together. It gave me an opportunity to be on stage with a real orchestra and being in a production of that level.”

Temple’s next production, Die Fledermaus, is a comic operetta with dialogue and waltzes and is in English. “Operetta’s were the precursor of musical theater and came from vaudeville,” Douglas said. It will be performed April 15 at 7:30 p.m. and April 17 at 3 p.m. in Tomlinson Theater.

Josh Chamberlain can be reached at joshch@temple.edu.

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