The 2023 DalOpera contained a double dose of shows, beginning with Mese Mariano, a one-act Italian opera by Umberto Giordano, and ending with La chanson de Fortunio, a French operetta by Jacques Offenbach.
The four-performance run at the Sir James Dunn Theatre began on Thursday, Nov. 30, and wrapped on Sunday, Dec. 3.
For the Thursday and Saturday shows, Samantha Fullerton, a fourth-year vocal performance student, portrayed the lead role of Carmela in Mese Mariano. The role was helmed by Karina Matys for the Friday and Sunday shows.
In the opera, Carmela arrives at an orphanage in the middle of the night to see the son she is guilty of abandoning a year prior. After pleading with the orphanage’s nuns, including a childhood friend Suor Paziena, they agree to let her see her son.
A revelation shortly thereafter brings Mese Mariano to a tragic end.
Fullerton said she tends to gravitate towards the more solemn characters, like Carmela.
“It felt pretty natural for me to learn Carmela, to learn how she moves, how she sings. Just because that’s what I’m good at,” said Fullerton.
She said that to evoke the grief and heartbreak of a mother looking for her son, she used experiences in her own life that have made her feel those emotions. It was about “remembering how that felt and how I behaved during those moments and then applying that as best as I could.”
The show’s director Veronique MacKenzie also shared her thoughts, specifically the connection between the two shows that made up the 2023 DalOpera.
“We said from day one that love was the connecting theme and that love comes in many forms,” said MacKenzie.
Mese Mariano is about the love of a mother, she said, while La chanson de Fortunio presents love in a more flamboyant way with its story about courtship.
Betty Allison, who is the head of the voice department at the Fountain School of Performing Arts and voice director of this show, decided which shows would be taken to the stage. She wanted the students to have a wide variety of opportunities and said that these shows together accomplish that.
“It also gives the audience a variety and it’s nice to see two radically different things,” added Allison.
Different programs working together
This year’s opera brought students from different programs together onto the stage. In addition to vocal performance students who handled the operatic singing, the shows featured acting students, including Liam Oko in the titular role in La Chanson de Fortunio.
Oko explained his character of Fortunio as an “above-middle-aged man who has come into bankruptcy.” Oko said that “he cooks up a plan to, weirdly enough, marry his foster child who does have quite a lot of money. And he figures that if he does that, he can take her fortune.”
When Fortunio was younger, he had a “charmed song,” which he used as a tool of seduction to enchant prospective lovers. Fortunio, however, cannot remember the song. When two of his clerks, Friquette (Stephen Deturbide) and Valentin (Mary Aileene Austin and Naomi Sney), stumble across a copy of the song, competition and comedy ensues.
A third-year acting student at Dalhousie, Oko said that he was brought into the fold in September when he was asked to play Fortunio. Like Fullerton, Oko appreciated the opportunity to work with performers from different programs.
“It’s so fun to see the way that the opera students and the voice students work compared to us as actors,” said Oko. “We have stuff that we can learn from each other. I learned a ton from my fellow colleagues in the opera about different voice qualities and techniques that I can use in the future.”
Oko’s castmate, Sophia Maskine, is a third-year performance major at Dalhousie. She portrays the subject of Fortunio’s affection, Laurette, and also speaks about the benefits of working with performers in different programs.
“It’s really important that we get to work with different people and know how different people operate and how we mesh with other people,” said Maskine. “In the real world, that’s what’s going to be happening. If we choose to enter opera companies, then we’re going to be working with people of all sorts of backgrounds.”
MacKenzie explained that in addition to the performers, students from the costume studies, stage design and technical theatre programs were also involved in the show.
“I think that’s the beauty of the Fountain School. That students are doing every aspect on a professional level,” said Allison.
Having finished the 2023 opera, the Fountain School will have its final show of the year on Dec. 19 with the Collegium Cantorum Concert: Christmas in Song before wrapping up for the holiday season.