Opera has an inherent international flavor. Many of the best known works are written in languages other than English and tell stories from around the world.
And the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s increasingly international student body will be seen in its production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, which plays Friday through Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
“Since I came here, I have learned so much about my craft. And it’s not only about the voice, but you must put work into your own craft, like learning all these languages,” says Thabang Masango, a senior from Pretoria, South Africa. “The German is really hard to understand. Even if we have 11 languages in our country, you have to go an extra mile to learn the language and understand what other people are talking about. It makes a difference.”
Masango’s fellow Pretorian, Bongani Ndhlalane, adds, “All of us are more ahead of other international students when it comes to English,” referring to himself, Masango and Brazilian students Andre and Wanessa Campelo. “But I still struggle, I have to go back and translate some stuff in my language to understand everything.”
The students point out that, far from a burden, dealing with multiple language barriers is actually good training for professional careers that might take them to other parts of the world where even more languages are in play.
But they each ended up coming to Kentucky for their training, which they say was the result of UK Opera reaching beyond the United States’ borders.
The Campelos, who are married, met UK voice professor Noemi Lugo when she went to teach at their university in Brazil on her sabbatical. She encouraged Andre to audition for a scholarship, which he got, and the couple came together, Wanessa earning a scholarship the following year.
Masango and Ndhlalane came to the United States from South Africa through a program at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. The American Spiritual Ensemble, which was founded by UK Opera director Everett McCorvey, came to perform at the church, and they were put in touch with McCorvey, who invited them to audition.
While they all came from bigger cities than Lexington — the Campelos hail from Goiânia, Brazil — the singers say they were impressed with the program and productions they saw.
The Campelos saw Porgy & Bess in 2010, which was the first production to use the large video panels to create backdrops for the show so that it could be presented in UK’s Singletary Center for the Arts, which does not have wing or fly space like most theatrical venues.
Cosi Fan Tutte is the first show since Porgy to use the panels, which will create a modern environment for this version of the show. It is set in a present-day resort, with the couples in the show presented as vacationers. The philosopher Don Alfonso, who will be played by Andre Campelo and Ndhlalane in the double-cast show, is presented as the resort owner.
All the students are in the latter years of their college careers. Seniors Masango and Ndhlalane are looking at graduate school options. The Campelos, who are expecting their first child this summer, are each pursuing doctorates and plan to return to Brazil after graduation. And they want to take some of Kentucky with them, at least the broad music education they say they have received at UK.
“When I came here, I didn’t realize what it takes to have a career,” Andre says.“I want to teach students the same way Dr. McCorvey teaches here.”