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Enjoy familiar opera choruses, orchestral interludes and arias from favorite composers like Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Rossini, and Wagner. Our award-winning cast includes soprano Jasmine Habersham, mezzo-soprano Laurel Semerdjian, tenor Miles Mykkanen, and baritone Jarrett Ott, along with the Syracuse University Oratorio Society and The Syracuse Orchestra!

PRE-PAID PARKING NOTE: The Harrison Street entrance and exit will be closed due to construction outside the building. All vehicles with a maximum clearance of 6’5″ are encouraged to use the upper Montgomery Street entrance. The Madison Street entrance and exit clearance is 6’5″ and should be used to exit the garage.


ROSSINI: Overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia 
VERDI: La donna e mobile from Rigoletto
Miles Mykkanen, tenor
PUCCINI: O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi
Jasmine Habersham, soprano
WAGNER: Prelude to Die Meistersinger 
MOZART: La ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni
Laurel Semerdjian, mezzo-soprano
Jarrett Ott, baritone
MASCAGNI: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
ROSSINI: Largo al factotum from Il barbiere di Siviglia
Jarrett Ott, baritone
VERDI: Quartet from Rigoletto
Jasmine Habersham, soprano
Laurel Semerdjian, mezzo-soprano
Miles Mykkanen, tenor
Jarrett Ott, baritone


VERDI: Triumphal March from Aida 
Syracuse University Oratorio Society
DONIZETTI: Una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore
Miles Mykkanen, tenor
VERDI: Va pensiero from Nabucco
VERDI: Caro nome from Rigoletto
Jasmine Habersham, soprano
MASSENET: Choisir! Et pourquoi? … O Rosalinde from Manon 
Jarrett Ott, baritone
BIZET: Danse Bohème from Carmen
BIZET: Habanera from Carmen
Laurel Semerdjian, mezzo-soprano
Syracuse University Oratorio Society
STRAUSS II: Overture to Die Fledermaus



Thanks to our sponsor for this performance!

Thanks to our media sponsor for this performance!



If you’re already an opera fan, you won’t need an introduction to the music on tonight’s concert. The sixteen selections, taken from twelve canonical operas written during the “long nineteenth century” (that is, roughly from the French Revolution to the First World War), are all familiar chestnuts. And even if you think of yourself as a total newcomer to the world of opera, chances are you’ll know most of the tunes, which have saturated our sonic landscape in cartoons, commercials, movie soundtracks, whatever. Still, tonight’s program is more than a collection of great musical ...

If you’re already an opera fan, you won’t need an introduction to the music on tonight’s concert. The sixteen selections, taken from twelve canonical operas written during the “long nineteenth century” (that is, roughly from the French Revolution to the First World War), are all familiar chestnuts. And even if you think of yourself as a total newcomer to the world of opera, chances are you’ll know most of the tunes, which have saturated our sonic landscape in cartoons, commercials, movie soundtracks, whatever. Still, tonight’s program is more than a collection of great musical moments (although it is that). It will, we hope, also serve as an introduction to—or reminder of—what makes opera tick. We hope that those of you who are not already converted with find yourselves caught up in the art form.

Let’s prepare for the evening by taking on some key myths about opera:

Myth No. 1: Opera is elitist. When I was a youngster, the old Metropolitan Opera House had a separate entrance around the corner for people in cheaper seats, so that we wouldn’t pollute the main part of the hall (which, not coincidentally, had a strict dress code). How could anyone experience that socially inequitable architecture without believing that opera was an elitist art form? But the elitism of opera was not in the art form itself: it existed because opera, which had long been popular art, had been hijacked to function as a special preserve for the wealthy. In other words, opera itself is not arcane, effete, or aimed at the few. On the contrary, it’s immediate and powerful; and no special training is needed to experience its impact. (Nor, for that matter, is special dress: nowadays, you can get into the new Met wearing jeans and a T-shirt, entering the same space as everyone else.)

Thus, even without any musical instruction, you’re sure to be roused by the Triumphal March from Aida (1871) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). Subtler, but even more striking, is the chorus “Va pensiero” (“Fly, my thoughts, on Golden Wings”). This secretive hymn of faith and love of homeland is sung by the Hebrew slaves in Verdi’s biblical opera Nabucco (1842)—and it has taken on a life outside the work, having even been proposed as Italy’s national anthem. Nor should we minimize the acrobatic virtuosity that often adds an extra kick to operatic performances: As tenor Miles Mykkanen says, “Part of the fun of opera is doing these insane heavy-lifting pieces that are very difficult and could fall off the wire at any given moment. We hope it doesn’t—but that’s the thrill.”

Myth No. 2: Operas are tear-jerkers. Opera has roots in Greek tragedy, so it’s no surprise that many operas end in death. But far from all of them: nearly half of the operas represented tonight are comedies. If you’re looking for lighthearted uplift, not much can beat “Largo al factotum” (“Make Way for the Factotum”) from Il barbiere de Siviglia(The Barber of Seville) by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), which introduces the hyperkinetic trickster Figaro. “He’s so good at everything,” says baritone Jarrett Ott, “yet the master of none. Whenever someone hears this piece, from those first 4 measures, a smile arises. Even if a person’s dead asleep in the audience, you know they’re going to come right to life and be content at heart when that music starts.”

Myth No. 3: Opera is misogynist. In 1979, Catherine Clément wrote book called Opera, or the Undoing of Women, which argued that opera demeans women by consistently putting them in positions where “they suffer, they cry, they die.” It was extremely influential—largely because it highlighted the undeniable sorrows of many of opera’s women. But is that misogyny specific to opera? Let’s put it in context: well beyond opera, the long nineteenth century was, in general, unsympathetic to women—and we see many of the same sufferings in the novels, plays, paintings, and politics of the period, too. And while it would be hard to do a statistical comparison, it’s worth remembering that even though the most famous opera composers of the period were men (something not true in the world of literature), operas are filled with stirring examples of women’s strength, too. In Beethoven’s Fidelio, Leonora rescues her husband from prison; Puccini’s Tosca kills the head of the secret police; Brünnhilde, in Wagner’s Ring, lights the fire that brings down the gods. The title character of Carmen (1875) by Georges Bizet (1838–1875 shares that power. “Carmen is my absolute favorite role to sing ,” says mezzo-soprano Laurel Semerdjian. “She’s such a strong woman, and she’s so sure of herself. She demands attention, drawing you in the way other women would never do.” Carmen’s “Habanera” is her entrance aria—and like Figaro’s, it gives a striking picture of her personality. “Whether or not everything she does is, technically, morally right, you have to admire her for the way she lives her life freely. As she says, ‘I was born free, and I’ll die free. That’s what it is, and you can take it or leave it.’”

Myth No. 4: Opera is unrealistic. Opera is often dismissed for its outrageous, unrealistic stories. And if you consider the plot of something like Verdi’s Il Trovatore—with its combination of coincidence and mistaken identity that leads to accidental filicide and fratricide—the criticism seems valid, especially when you compare it to the plots of the great novels of the period, when realism was at its peak.

            And yet: when it comes to realism, plot is not everything. Character is central, too. One of the major contributions of the realist novel was the development of techniques for revealing the minds of characters—indeed, for revealing things about their thoughts, anxieties, passions that they didn’t know themselves. In contrast, drama of the time—especially with the elimination of soliloquies because they were deemed too unrealistic—tended to stick to more external aspects of character. In this respect, nineteenth-century opera was actually closer to the novel than to drama. Not only did characters sing their thoughts directly; more important, the music elaborated on those psychological mechanisms in often remarkably subtle ways.

            Take, as one example, the aria “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A Furtive Tear”) from L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti (1797– 1848). Nemorino is a poor peasant in love with the rich landowner Adina. He’s hoodwinked into buying a fake love-potion—and after a series of comic-opera misadventures, he sees a tear in her eye that he interprets as a sign that she really loves him. Miles describes it as follows: “Nemorino is incredibly shy, and he’s living at a time where education didn’t exist for a guy like him. So he’s a simple thinker, and he hides a lot of emotions. So much of the opera is about him actually coming out of himself. This aria, with its incredibly beautiful melody, is our moment to see into him.” Yet it’s remarkably complex. Donizetti could easily have written an upbeat, joyful number—but he doesn’t. “The music is in minor and sounds sad. What does that mean? And how does that inform my performance?” There’s no way to sing it without probing Nemorino’s character. “It’s an aria I’ve sung for over 15 years, and every time I pick it up I ask, ‘What does this mean today? How is it changed since the last time I picked it up?’”

            Opera is especially good at conveying moments of indecision and moments of change—as exemplified by Zerlina’s contribution to the duet “La ci darem la mano” (“There We’ll Give Each Other Our Hands”) from Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791).

As Laurel describes it, Zerlina, having just been married to the slightly coarse Masetto, notices a wedding crasher: “This beautiful man [none other than Don Giovanni/Don Juan] walks in with all this experience. He’s so charming, and even though she just got married.… I think she’s young and impressionable. From the get-go, she says, ‘I want to, but I cannot.’” An innocent who teeters, she’s nearly the polar opposite of the decisive and experienced Carmen.

            As demonstrated by this duet—which contrasts Don Giovanni’s suave, seductive upper crust power with Zerlina’s inexperienced confusion—opera is also especially good at expressing the simultaneous conflicting reactions of multiple characters to a situation, something that novels of the time were hard pressed to do. An even more vivid example is represented the Quartet from Rigoletto (1851) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). More on this excerpt later.

            Myth No. 5: Opera deals in stereotypes. True, if you watch enough operas, you’ll find yourself facing similar characters and. But the best operas uncover the uniqueness of those elements, not their commonalities.

            Tonight, soprano Jasmine Habersham offers two arias: Lauretta’s “O mio babbino caro” (“O My Dear Papa”) from Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini [1858–1924]) and Gilda’s “Caro nome” (“Sweet Name”) from Rigoletto. Both of them, as she puts it, represent “young girls in love who would do anything to be with their partners.” Given that much information, you might legitimately expect a certain redundancy. As things work out musically, however, the characters show themselves to be entirely different.

            Lauretta is singing to her father, asking for his support as she tries to marry Rinuccio—against the wishes of  the families on both sides. In part, she’s describing her love—but in part, with the skill possessed by so many teenagers, she’s twisting her father around her little finger. One challenge for the singer is to work out the precise balance.

Gilda’s situation is far different. Unlike Lauretta, who knows herself, Gilda is still trying to find out who she is; and unlike Lauretta—who not only knows herself but also knows her boyfriend well—Gilda has fallen for the unscrupulous Duke, a man she doesn’t know and definitely shouldn’t trust, a man who courts her in disguise. As Jasmine says, we’ve learned that Gilda has an “undying wish to be like her mother, who loved her father despite his physical deformities and was always present for him”; and later, in the Quartet, despite her “aching cry” when she sees the Duke’s perfidy and “can’t believe what she is experiencing,” she nonetheless sacrifices herself for him, even though he has betrayed her. A lot of complexity here: “It’s a character,” says Jasmine, “that I’ve lived with. But I’m still discovering layers every single time I’ve done the role.”

Similarly, Jarrett plays two characters who seem, on the surface, fairly similar: Don Giovanni in the eponymous opera by Mozart, and Manon’s swaggering brother Lescaut in Massenet’s Manon. In both of the excerpts that we’re offering tonight, we see them as wolves looking for prey. But psychologically, they differ significantly—as the music makes clear, and as the singer has to convey in performance. Don Giovanni is a seducer who, Jarrett says, “always has to prove himself,” to “explain that he’s going to be faithful and give all the love he has.” (In fact, he’s got some reason for apprehension: despite his frequent boasting, he fails in every seduction attempt in the course of the opera.) Lescaut, in contrast, isn’t even pretending sincerity. He’s overtly negotiating; as he offers to give jewels to the various women in the crowd in exchange for kisses, he doesn’t expect anyone to believe that his interest is other than carnal. These two characters are not only different from each other—they’re both different, as well, from the womanizing and vicious Duke in Rigoletto, who, in his self-satisfied, snarky “La donna e mobile” (“Women are Fickle”), shows himself, in Miles’s words, to be the ultimate “alpha male.”

            Myth No. 6: In opera, the orchestra is secondary. Mozart was as devoted to symphonic writing as he was to opera; the same is true for Prokofiev and Philip Glass. In the nineteenth century, there was more specialization. Beethoven completed a single opera, as did Liszt and Schumann; Brahms and Mahler didn’t write any. And you won’t find significant symphonic output from Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, or Puccini. Add to this the existence of recitals where Luciano Pavarotti sings opera arias with piano accompaniment—not to mention the regularity of opera productions with reduced orchestrations—and it’s easy to conclude that the orchestra is a kind of supplement to opera performance, something that’s nice to have, but not really necessary. Tonight’s concert, in part, is intended to remind us all that many of the great opera composers were great orchestrators, too—as is especially clear in the five purely orchestral numbers that fill out the program, showing the radically different orchestral voices of Rossini, Richard Wagner (1813–1883), Johann Strauss II (1825–1899), Bizet, and Pietro Mascagni (1863–1945).

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Have any comments or questions? Please write to me at prabinowitz@SyracuseOrchestra.org