A Summer Spent Singing in Italy

Sep 14, 2016

by Rachel LaVo ‘17 & Matthew English ‘17
Edited for content and length

Over the summer, music professors Mark Thomsen and Dr. Beth Gibbs took four students to the annual opera performance seminar in Mercatello, Italy through the International Opera Performing Experience (IOPE) program. 

The FSC students, Alyna Salgado ‘17, Rachel LaVo ‘17, Matthew English ’17, and Josef Samargia ‘17 were able to attend this program as a Junior Journey. The class itself is called “Music and Culture” in which Professor Thomsen taught tenors and a baritone.

Professor Thomsen is a co-founder of this Italian program. The music department is planning on doing another trip again next summer with the Verdi’s opera La Traviata. They are constantly looking for singers and will soon instrumentalists.

The students stayed in apartments around Mercatello and the faculty/staff lodged in the Palazzo di Donati (which is owned by the same family of Buoso Donati referred to in Dante’s Divine Comedy and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi), which is located on the Mercatello main piazza.

The group also visited the Castello della Pieve over the summer. It is an agriturismi, an agritourism site, that overlooks the valley. This castello (castle) is where Dante Alighieri was exiled, and is where he began working on The Divine Comedy.

FSC students and faculty performing in Italy.

Professor Thomsen and Dr. Gibbs performed Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi in an outdoor venue near the San Francesco Church. Dr. Beth Gibbs sang the role of Zita in the opera production of Gianni Schicchi. Both performances, the song and aria concert and the opera, were part of the Marche region’s music festival offerings for the summer, Musica a Musica.

Amy Rosine, a professor from Kansas State, and Professor Thomsen sang Libiamo, an opening chorus from Verdi’s La Traviata. It was for a song and aria concert entitled Una Notte dell’ Opera. That and the performance of Gianni Schicchi were two public events that resulted from the IOPE program.

A big event for the town is the Palio, which is part of the celebration of life, and includes a contest that involves climbing a pole for salami, a pasta making contest, a pedal cart race, a donkey race (with riders), among other activities.

Dr. Gibbs and Professor Thomsen also opened the town’s talent show, Mercatello Has Talent (their version of it) with the popera song “The Prayer” (made famous by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli).

Two Students’ Accounts of the Trip— Rachel LaVo ‘17 & Matthew English ‘17

It was an opera singer’s trip of a lifetime. We got to sing an Italian opera in Italy, and I haven’t even gotten my diploma yet! It was a completely unforgettable experience that I know I will remember forever. This trip gave the four of us a chance to live in the opera world sooner than we expected.

Obtaining Knowledge

Students walking around town in Mercatello.

For the month-long journey we all had a busy schedule: daily Italian classes, voice lessons, ensemble rehearsals, masterclasses, and more! It was crazy how easy it was for us to learn the starting points of the language, involving grammar, pronunciation, and conversation. We all had individual private vocal lessons with the IOPE faculty, as well as vocal coaching. Each week started with a masterclass of a specific topic, whether it was auditioning, expression, or just talking music in the business world.

Applying the Knowledge

From a music perspective, it was important that we applied the vocal techniques we learned from our lessons and coaching to our performances. After every class, we would attempt to have conversations with the locals of the town. Everyone knew that we were trying to learn the language, so they helped us along the way if we were struggling to say something. That was actually one of the ways we met our Italian friends on the trip; they were so welcoming and loved that we were American singers. We still keep in touch to this day!

Exploring the Cities

We traveled to many places during our stay in Italy, including Urbino, Urbania, and Sant’Angelo in Vado. From shopping in the lively city of Bologna, to swimming in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Pesaro, there was never a dull moment. Every cathedral we walked in, big or small, took our breath away. It was amazing to look at all the paintings, statues, and monuments of what early 17th and 18th century artists created. The San Petronio Basilica in Bologna was definitely one of our favorites.

The Italian lessons came in handy when we got the chance to explore on our own; we spoke Italian to ask for directions, order food, and purchase goods. Every restaurant we went to was amazing. The service was fast and the food was unforgettable.

The Experience

FSC students inside the San Petronio Basilica.

The city we stayed in for the program was Mercatello sul Metauro, a small but active Italian village. The mountains and countryside that surrounded the town are perfect for walking and hiking. Any history fanatic would love Mercatello because almost every building reflects the history of the neighboring museums and cathedrals.

How many undergrad students can say they sang an Italian opera in Italy? It was unbelievable how we got a glimpse of what our future careers are going to be like with this program. We had two performances in Italy: an opera scene/aria concert and the opera, Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.

Both performances went really well; people could not stop talking about how fantastic it was. Overall though, it was the experience of learning new vocal techniques from the IOPE faculty and applying them to our studies that made us grow as musicians.

This trip gave us new friends, new techniques, and possibly a new outlook on life. Mercatello sul Metauro is a town filled with amazing people around every corner. We have created memories there that will last a lifetime.