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Pittsburgh Opera Hosts CMU Student Productions

For some, opera means women in Viking helmets singing century-old arias, but that’s not the case with CO-OPERA.

A year-long collaborative effort among Carnegie Mellon University’s schools of Art, Computer Science, Drama and Music, as well as the Pittsburgh Opera, CO-OPERA brings students, faculty and alumni together to produce and perform five original modern operas.

Five composers from CMU’s School of Music were paired with writers from the university’s School of Drama for the project. The CMU Contemporary Ensemble vocalists from the School of Music will be the performers.

Music Administrator for the Pittsburgh Opera Christopher Powell, said, for some composers, this was their first experience working with opera.

“It gives them an excellent opportunity to learn about the art form,” Christopher Powell, music administrator for the Pittsburgh Opera, said, “but it might also be an opportunity for them to discover that they really enjoy writing for opera and we may discover some hidden gems in amongst the five operas that we have.”

Powell said the productions cover a wide range of themes, including fantasy and spirituality, but it’s their social commentary that makes them modern.

“Opera is written now that is making some kind of statement on our lives and how we live them today,” he said. “And, it’s certainly a wonderful point of opera this time that it has such a strong identity in what’s happening in our world right now.”

Unlike most operas, there’s no physical set, just digital scenes created by CMU computer engineering students projected on the stage.

“Whether it’s designing video games or designing other engineering elements with computers, they have focused their efforts for the last several months on our project and have come up with some incredible backdrop and scenery and interactive elements with the opera,” Powell said.

Powell described the operas as “intimate,” as the productions only include two to five vocalists.

“It’s the combination of the visual, the musical, the vocal—everything is there that constitutes opera,” he said. “It’s a much smaller scale, just a different way of looking at it.”

CO-OPERA begins Friday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Founders’ Room at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters. Each production is 15-20 minutes with a total run time of 120 minutes, including one intermission.

Admission is free. Tickets can be reserved online.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."
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