Putting on full-scale Hubbard Hall opera daunting yet thrilling for Alexina Jones

Alexina Jones had a dream. “I’ve always been interested in doing an opera and I knew I would have to

Alexina Jones had a dream.

“I’ve always been interested in doing an opera and I knew I would have to create the scene up here,” Jones said, who moved to White Creek with her husband four years ago from New York City. “I wanted to start small with a kids’ opera or a concert version of an opera. I wanted to feel out the audience.”

But when she went to Benjie White, the executive director at Hubbard Hall, and the hall’s board, they told her that if she wanted to do an opera, then do an opera.

“I hardly expected to do a full opera and several shows,” Jones said.

‘Cosi Fan Tutte’

WHERE: Hubbard Hall Opera Theater, 26 E. Main St., Cambridge

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Aug. 21 and 23. Matinee at 2 p.m. Aug. 24.

HOW MUCH: $30, $25, $20

MORE INFO: 677-2495 or visit www.hubbbardhall.org

The newly christened Hubbard Hall Opera Theater will present Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” on Friday and Saturday, and then Aug. 21, 23 and 24. It will be a full-scale production with sets, costumes, a 23-piece orchestra, an international cast and English supertitles. Jones, a coloratura soprano, will sing the role of the maid, Despina.

(Cosi’s plot: Ferrando and Guglielmo, two young soldiers, argue with older philosopher Don Alfonso in a cafe that their fiancées are models of faithfulness. But Alfonso counters that women are fickle. He bets them that if they disguise themselves and each makes advances to the other’s fiancée, the women will succumb in a day. The ladies think their soldiers are off to war, and these two strangers are fair game. And thus begins the comedy.)

“I’m taking it one step at a time. It’s daunting to put on an entire opera,” Jones said.

One step at a time

Fortunately, as a recent graduate of New York University, where she’d also taught non-major vocal students, and with experience singing in Pacific Opera and as a studio artist with Lake George Opera, Jones knew what to do. Her organizational skills had been honed as a member of Skidmore College’s Skidmore Accents, a 12-woman a cappella singing group that she had managed when she was a student there.

Her first step was to choose the opera.

“I decided to go all out. I wanted a well-known composer and a familiar opera that would require a small cast,” she said.

Mozart’s “Cosi” filled the bill because the cast requires only six singers, and she could cut the chorus. Fewer singers meant less scheduling, Jones said, but she wanted everyone to be paid. Because opera singers need to rest their voices and can’t sing back-to-back shows and because Hubbard Hall ticket sales had to cover 50 percent of her budget, it was decided to do five performances. Jones also substantially cut much of the recitative (sung dialogue) to bring the show in at just over two hours.

So for the past nine months, Jones has been fundraising and was surprised when a couple from Rochester sent her a check for $1,000 because they support rural opera projects, she said.

Her biggest concern was where she’d find the singers, the conductor and the director. Although she knew there were some amazing local opera singers, she said, Jones advertised in opera magazines for singers who would be interested in traveling. She received 80 responses, most from New York City, and mostly from sopranos, she said.

“I went to New York City and heard 65 singers,” she said.

Through networking with friends, Jones found her conductor, Richard Giarusso, a singer and conductor who had founded The New Opera in Williamstown, Mass., and who had recently taken a job as a professor at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Jones chose the top three singers from each vocal range and sent them to Giarusso, who made the final selection. He also found the 23 musicians for the orchestra.

Soprano Roza Tulyaganova, who will sing the role of Fiordiligi, is a native of Uzbekistan and recently received her master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and has sung with many East Coast opera companies.

Mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell, who lives in Albany and teaches voice at Russell Sage College, has several opera credentials and is a member of Venus, an international singing group. Cornell will sing the role of Dorabella.

Bass-baritone Ivan Amaro, who will sing the role of Don Alfonso, has a long list of opera roles. Tenor Brian Tanner is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan and has sung opera roles with companies in Utah and California and will sing the role of Ferrando. Baritone Richard Mazzaferro, in the role of Guglielmo, is well known to local audiences for his versatile voice and his many appearances with local choral groups and orchestras.

The director of the show is Dianna Heldman, a mezzo-soprano and colleague of Jones from New York University, where she’s the associate director of vocal performance. Hubbard Hall crews, which include Jones’ husband Jason Dolmetsch, built the sets, and The Costumer of Schenectady handled the costumes, which have been updated to 1910, Jones said.

The singers were in place by early March, the orchestra by May and the costumes in July, but Jones ran into a few unexpected difficulties. Giarusso had arranged to have Harvard, his alma mater, loan the orchestral parts. They were mailed to him but he never received them. Postal officials eventually found the box but the music was missing and in its place was cardboard covered with a strange liquid. The vandal has not been found.

“We had to get new orchestra parts. It was a huge and unexpected expense. After, we will donate them to Harvard,” Jones said.

Singers were also proving a bit temperamental. Some wanted pay raises and others wanted time off.

“I’ve had to learn to be meaner or more hardcore up front,” Jones said. “I’ve had to learn how to insist and when to delegate.”

Jones is still thrilled about the entire experience, and even before rehearsals began she was looking to the future. “I’d love to do a two-piano “Hansel and Gretel” with all local people,” she said.

Categories: Life and Arts

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