Never let it be said that Buck Ross and the University of Houston's Moores Opera Center hesitate to think big. Not when they're getting ready to roll out their production of Giuseppe Verdi 's Rigoletto, a tragic tale like so many in opera that gives its singers a real opportunity to shine.
It is also, by all accounts, rarely performed at the collegiate level, but according to soprano Ashly Neumann, a second-year grad student getting a degree in applied music performance, director Ross believes he has the collection of talent right now to pull it off.
"I'm playing Gilda, the daughter of Rigoletto, the court jester. Gilda has been seeing this duke at church. He bribes her nurse so they can have an encounter.," Neumann says. What follows is love on her part and lust and abandonment on his. All overlaid with a curse that had been placed on her father and the duke by the father of a young woman previously wronged by the duke, with the assistance of Rigoletto.
"A lot of times she plays this sort of insipid character," Neumann says But Ross has been working with Neumann and Kirsten Leslie who alternate the role "to make her a real personality." (James Rodriguez is Rigoletto, Chris Trapani is the Duke, Neumann performs on April 5, Leslie performs on April 7. )
Having a chance to shine is one reason Neumann and her husband moved from Michigan to Houston for her master's work. She knew that Moore's puts on four operas every year. Her own work has gained her special acclaim; this year she won two first place finishes at the Mid-Texas Symphony Young Artist Competition and the Young Texas Artists Music Competition.
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UH makes it easier for students like Neumann to handle ambitious parts while in grad school, she says. "It's part of our day. It's not treated as an extra curricular. Buck Ross carefully plans the entire season." Until they get to tech week, their eight-week rehearsal schedule is built into their school day, she says.
Neumann, who first became interested in opera while an elementary student on a field trip, plans to stay in the area for a whole working with a bel canto program. Then she's headed to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara on a full-tuition paid program enabling her to sign her heart out. She then plans to teach on the side while auditioning for young artists apprenticeship programs throughout out country. "I want to be a performer."
Besides the great voices, Neumann says anyone who hasn't seen opera at Moore's 800-seat theater is missing something. "To see the opera in such an intimate setting at Moore's opera house," she says. "It's just a fantastic experience."
Performances of Rigoletto are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 5 and 2 p.m. April 7 at Moore's Opera Center. For information call 713-743-3313 or visit the Moores online box office.