March 06, 2019

Ryan Opera Center’s Workshop of The Marriage of Figaro

This summer, Lyric’s mainstage might be dark, but The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center is in the height of their training and performance activities.  The current members of Lyric’s prestigious artist-development program are hard at work, preparing a weekly recital series that will later be broadcast on WFMT, as well as concentrating on a summer workshop production. 

The workshop is one of the highlights of the Ryan Opera Center season, and this year the 2015/16 Ensemble members are tackling Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, the opera which opens Lyric’s season starting on September 26. 

The workshop serves two main purposes. First, it allows Ryan Opera Center members the chance to study and “perform principal, leading level roles in repertoire they are destined to be able to sing when they leave the program,” says Ryan Opera Center director Dan Novak. “As they are seeking future employment, they can promote the fact that, for instance, they know the role of Figaro and could be hired to sing it.”

Secondly, the workshop allows for excellent preparation of roles they are understying for Lyric.“Frequently the repertoire for the workshop will be an opera from the upcoming season—as is The Marriage of Figaro this year—and virtually everyone in our workshop cast is understudying the role they are singing in the workshop,” notes Novak. 

What does it mean to be an understudy, or as it’s known in the opera world, a cover? Third-year ensemble member Richard Ollarsaba is performing Figaro in this workshop and covering the role for the Lyric mainstage production; he covered Don Giovanni last season following workshop performances earlier in the year and had the opportunity to go on for star Mariusz Kwiecien for one performance. He credits the workshop as an invaluable experience to learning the role, along with Lyric’s policy that covers attend every rehearsal: “We are obligated to be at every rehearsal up until the first performance, which is different from a lot of other companies I've been acquainted with," he says. “You see the entire process, so when things change on a dime in rehearsals, you're actually there to see it instead of just hearing about it days later.”

Bradely Smoak is performing the role of Antonio in both the workshop and mainstage production

Nine Ryan Opera Center members will be covering the roles in the mainstage production that they portrayed in the workshop; many of them will also perform in smaller roles. For example, second-year member Hlengiwe Mkhwanzai is covering Susanna and portraying Barbarina. Second-year member Bradley Smoak is performing Antonio in both the workshop and mainstage production. 

Covering a role is invaluable experience for their post-Ryan Opera Center careers, emphasizes Novak: “It allows them to learn these big roles. Even if they don’t end up going on during the run, they still learn it very well, and having that on their resumes is noted by administrators working to cast productions in upcoming seasons.” 

Ryan Opera Center members will shine in Lyric's opening production of The Marriage of Figaro, running September 26 – October 24. Tickets still available here, including seats for the glamorous season Opening Night! Join us for the show, or consider a package of three or more operas for maximum savings.

Ryan Opera Center Workshop Performances are generously sponsored by Martha A. Hesse.

Photos: Jaclyn Simpson