Graduate and undergraduate students at USC have spent months preparing for the premiere "La Finta Giardiniera," a classic Mozart opera with a modern twist. The show will be held at Drayton Hall Theater this Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
"La Finta Giardiniera" follows two aristocratic ex-fiancés who must overcome the struggles of their pasts in order to rekindle their relationship. The interpretation takes place in 1920s Hollywood, but will be performed in Italian.
The period in which the original opera was written significantly influenced the content and quality of the story.
“This opera was right on the cusp of him not being a child prodigy anymore, but it's before he wrote all of his great works,” director David Toulson said.
Toulson himself has previously performed in "La Finta Giardiniera." He made the decision to set the play in the Roaring '20s with the intent of maintaining the characters’ natural relationships in a time distant enough to be considered the past, yet modern enough to relate the characters to a contemporary audience.
“What they can look for is a very fun, high-energy production,” he said.
Having seen so many sides of theater productions, Toulson has a thorough understanding of which operas will allow the actors to grow and gain certain skills.
“Giving them the experience of learning how to sing Mozart would be invaluable to them in their careers,” he said.
The live orchestra has been rehearsing for this production since September, and the student singers have been studying their assignments since they got them, months earlier.
Sunday night the cast had a seated rehearsal, which was the first time the singers and the orchestra practiced together. Tuesday night they put it all together with singers, instrumentalists, scenery, lighting and costumes.
There are two casts for the performance; one sings on Friday and Sunday and the other on Saturday.
Fourth-year vocal performance student AnnaBelle Lusk sings as the character Serpetta in one of the casts. She has previously taken on the roles of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.” Her current role differs from those characters’ personalities quite a bit.
“[Serpetta] is really sassy and very full of zest and life," Lusk said. "So it’s been really fun to play that character."
The fact that there are two casts give Lusk the opportunity to learn from other actors in the production when she is not on stage.
“Everybody plays their character so differently between the two casts that it’s really neat to watch each other,” Lusk said.
Evy Johnson, first-year graduate student, shares the role of Serpetta with Lusk.
This is Johnson's first production at USC, although was in three operas and three musicals at her previous school. She has gained a lot of knowledge about how to both sing and view productions.
“As singers and actors ... our focus is telling our character's story,” Johnson said. “I think that's what makes the story so much more rich, is when you think about maybe what happened behind the scenes."
Lusk and Johnson both agree that the opera is successfully comical.
“There’s some really funny moments, even moments that aren’t supposed to be funny,” Lusk said.
Johnson acknowledged that an opera like "La Finta Giardiniera" can be a lot to process — from music to costumes to stage design, but she asks that viewers keep an open mind.
"Try to take it all in as a whole, don’t get too caught up in one thing, because opera truly is a combination of all the arts," Johnson said.