Like La Périchole, Students Venture into the Unknown

Mar 24, 2015

by Leah Schwarting | Student Life Reporter

As the curtains drew back to reveal a Peruvian square, music blossomed within Branscomb Auditorium on March 21. The show was La Périchole, a musical mixture of sweetness and laughter. It was a performance that coincidentally challenged students to go beyond their traditional roles as performers on the stage, make-up artists behind the curtain, and musicians in the orchestra pit.

The opera, led by music professors Dr. Mark Thomsen and Dr. Kira Omelchenko, is based on the life of Micaela Villegas, a Peruvian entertainer and mistress of the  regal official of Peru, Viceroy Manuel de Amat Juniet,  from 1761 to 1776. Junior Alyna Salgado starred as La Périchole, a beautiful but impoverished Peruvian street singer. To escape her poverty, she takes a position at the court of the lecherous Viceroy. The decision separates her from her true love, Piquilo, and reunion is made possible only after a series of comedic mishaps.

While poor La Périchole risked a chance at mimicking a life of royalty, Alyna also took a chance in a new arena: opera.  Unlike her character however, there was no faking involved. Although this vocal talent has previously performed in various musicals, Alyna stepped out of her comfort zone only to expertly perform a breathtaking opera rendition of La Périchole.

The transition from musical theatre to opera started when her voice teacher recommended that she join an opera theatre class, taught by Thomsen. The class prepares  students to perform in operas, as well as encourages them to have fun and use their vocal creativity.

“You want to pretend? You want to play?” Thomsen said. “Come to opera theatre."

Make-up artists had to carefully decide upon the appropriate colors for actors Rachel Lavo (left) and Taylor Faas (right).

Once enrolled, Alyna learned performance techniques, tweaking her singing style so that it was more in tune with an opera than a musical. When it came time to audition, Salgado pushed herself to aim for the lead role, and surprised herself by getting cast.

“If you told me a year ago that I was going to be in an opera, one of the lead characters nonetheless, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Alyna said. “But I did it. I jumped right in, I tried new things, and it’s been so much fun.

Alyna’s leap of faith landed her onstage, singing her way through La Périchole’s anguish in the Letter Song and laughing through Tipsy Aria.

Backstage, fellow theater majors Patience Elett, Annie Gaddis, and Brianna Hill also took on rolls that were unfamiliar but much desired.  Helping Alyna get into character, the three girls worked diligently behind the scenes.  Their  responsibilities as novel make-up artists required that every performer had the suitable look and style.  Their tasks necessitated the use of lighter colors for the comedic scenes and the appropriate cosmetology that highlighted performers' smiles.

Like Alyna, the three were also stepping outside of their traditional roles, since none of them are majoring in technical theatre and design. Even so, each of them is equally encouraged to get involved in any aspect of the theatre, as doing so gives them a more rounded experience.

Patience sees this as a special opportunity for FSC students. “I’ve talked with a few people from different schools who have said that performance majors are not allowed to go into the tech field,” she said. “Those fields are viewed as completely separate entities. So I think that’s something that makes Florida Southern really stand out. It’s just great because we are allowed to do those things if we want.

Peeking from below in the orchestra, Dr. Omelchenko conducts talented ensemble as the cast on stage acts out its scene.

That level of appreciation in being able to experience something not many others do was heard loud and clear in the orchestra pit as well, where the music continued, indifferent to the hussle and bussle of the backstage make-up and costume changes. Performers in FSC’s orchestra – the opera’s “invisible character,” as Omelchenko calls it – carried their own tunes toward center stage.

Because of space issues, as well as musical balance, some students ended up with a much-coveted and rare solo performance to play in their section. It was a challenge, but one that gave each a greater chance to showcase their skills and giving Florida Southern another right to boast about its ability to provide students with well-rounded experience within the field.

“When they leave school, they’ll be better prepared for auditions and reacting to the moment, and being flexible as well as being confident .”
~Dr. Kira Omelchenko

But whether alone or in synchronization with other members of their section, the musicians in the orchestra played almost non-stop throughout the performance. They were the last to stop performing after Act I, and the first to start after the intermission.

“That’s a great strength that they’re learning, so when they leave school, they’ll be better prepared for auditions and reacting to the moment, and being flexible as well as being confident,” Omelchenko said.

The endurance and focus helped students play beautifully throughout the entire two-and-a-half-hour performance, as La Périchole finds her “happily ever after” onstage. But no matter where students found themselves in relation to the stage that night, all of them shared the experience of taking a step outside their traditional roles.

And it was that desire to take that step which ultimately led to the success of the evening. Even before the performers assembled for their curtain call, the audience was already on its feet cheering.