Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Elixir of Love Highlights Rising Talent and New Opera Director

Elixir of Love Highlights Rising Talent and New Opera Director

This semester’s opera, Elixir of Love, runs November 18-20 in Smith Recital Hall. This production is particularly significant as it showcases a rising talent from SDSU’s vocal department, Amanda Olea, and the school’s new Director of Opera, Ashraf Sewailam.

Elixir of Love is a two-act comic opera written in 1832 by Gaetano Donizetti. Sweailam has set it in a 1950’s Brooklyn high school, à la the movie, Grease. Amanda Olea, soon-to-be graduate and winner of myriad competitions and accolades, will be singing the principle female role of Adina. According to Olea, “I was really excited when Elixir was announced as our next opera because Adina has been one of my dream roles for a very long time. The rehearsal process has been fulfilling and rewarding in many ways.”

Both Olea and Sewailam cite Elixir of Love as a great learning opportunity for the student singers at SDSU. Olea shares “The music in this the show is very technically difficult and it is quite a challenge for all of the singers in this opera. I am always looking to be challenged and pushed in ways that I haven’t been before and that is exactly what this music has done.”

Sewailam’s comment echoes Olea’s, but from a teacher’s perspective “It’s the perfect opera for students… challenging enough to force them to grow and step up to its demands, yet not too challenging vocally that it would be harmful to their voices. The subject matter is also light, lively and comic. So much to play with, and big chorus scenes where we can utilize many of our students in the chorus and give them a chance to learn being on stage in a safe environment.”

Sewailam seeks to bring a new dynamic to the opera department at SDSU. “I am a firm believer that an ‘opera singer’ should aim to actually become a singing actor. This means that we should train our students as professional actors just as much as singers.” He continues on to describe the importance of upholding opera’s dramatic relevance in order to preserve it as an art form. “I use rehearsals as a vehicle to teach acting and stage deportment for everyone. Next semester, I am enlisting the collaboration from faculty in the theater department to train acting, movement, and dance.”

The new Opera Director position poses challenges for Sewailam, but it’s nothing that he can’t handle. He taught at the American University in Cairo for six years between his masters and doctoral programs. “I produced concerts, conducted choirs, taught appreciation classes and voice lessons… but I have never stage directed an opera or even a scene. The appointment to which I was recruited opened my eyes to an area of the business that I had never thought about… yet I am now enjoying immensely.” When asked what he enjoys most about teaching, Sewailam responds “Inspiring and learning. I love watching little light bulbs turn on in my students’ minds, just as much as I enjoy learning from them, be it directly or through the challenges that they raise.”

Similar to Sewailam, Olea’s comfort zone is also being pushed through her role in Elixir of Love. “Adina is such a complicated character because from the beginning, she is actually in love with Nemorino, but she cannot admit that to herself. I am completely the opposite, the kind of person that wears her heart on her sleeve. Portraying Adina truthfully has pushed me to grow and to put myself in another person’s shoes.” Olea credits working with Ashraf as tremendously helpful in jumping this operatic hurdle. “Ashraf has really worked with me to figure out why Adina is the way she is. If I would’ve done this role two years ago, I don’t think I would’ve been able to portray her to her full potential. Because I’ve had such great experiences with the teachers at SDSU, I have grown as a performer and singer, and this role is perfect for where I am right now.” Sewailam has great things to say about Olea as a student, describing her as “one of the most focused students I have ever met. She’s exactly the type that would still be standing after many have given up on the business.”

Two of the key players in Elixir of Love, the leading lady and the director himself, have concurrent challenges and high stakes with this opera. The flip side of that coin, however, is that there is also opportunity for tremendous success. Hear Amanda Olea sing her heart out in this “light, lively, and comic” opera directed by Ashraf Sewailam later this month. For tickets and further information, visit this link.

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