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Richmond resident sings and sews for UBC opera

Lorraine Graves   Jun-20-2018

Soprano Tessa Waddell embraces her chosen life as a UBC Music School student, costumer, and Richmond resident.

Photo by Chung Chow

Before Les Miserables hit the theatres or Busby Berkeley movies appeared, there was opera, the musical theatre of its day.

Just as stories like A Christmas Carol continue to touch our hearts, even though written in the century before last, the theatrical and musical spectacle that is opera continues to move audiences today. Few things translate to TV as poorly as opera. Just as watching a circus on the little screen offers none of the moving theatrics, so too opera needs to be experienced, not just watched on a hand-held device.



Richmond is home to a young soprano from Okotoks, Alberta, a community of 28,881.

UBC opera student, Tessa Waddell is a Richmondite by choice. Last year, when she moved to the coast, she first lived in Vancouver to attend the UBC School of Music. She found it too big and too hectic.

“I never grew up in a city. Coming here was a big adjustment and Richmond was such a happy middle ground from being a country girl to a city girl. The pace at which things flow is a little bit easier for me to adjust to,” Waddell says.

In the second of her four-year performance degree program, Waddell works part-time in the costumes department, sewing and mending costumes.

“I think that everybody who chooses to pursue a performance major should have an idea of how things work backstage--the amount of work, and every job that goes into making everything look good on stage; costuming, lighting design, and sound tech.”

Waddell says that after working on costumes, she is certainly more careful with them.

And, she says, of the costumes for the upcoming UBC School of Music operas, June 21 to 24, at the newly renovated Old Auditorium, “They’re exceptional if I do say so myself.”

The two shorter operas being performed are actually part of a trilogy, or triptych in musical parlance, by Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini, born 1858.

“The first of the two operas, Il Tabarro, is set in the earl twentieth century on the bustling waterfront of Paris. It’s about a love triangle, what else? A woman whose husband is significantly older than she is and she falls in love with someone her own age. I don’t want to spoil anything but things don’t go exactly as planned,” Waddell says with a smile.

In addition to working on the costumes, Waddell sings in Il Tabarro.

“It’s a chorus role. I’m one of the Mindinettes, the girls of the town. It’s the light-hearted reprise in the more dark of the two operas,” she says.

Waddell goes on to describe the opera after the intermission, Gianni Schicchi.

“The second one is the more light-hearted of the two for sure. If you’ve ever had a family disagreement, it is nothing compared to this.”

Set in Florence in the year 1299, this opera contains the famous aria, O mio babbino caro often heard as a solo. It has been performed by many of the world’s most famous classical stars. This is a chance to see and hear it in context, as part of the story, rather than just a concert piece.

“It’s a fan favourite and we have two exceptional sopranos singing that.” Waddell explains they won’t both be singing at the same time, “We have a double cast, they alternate performance nights.”

UBC has hired the head costumer of Vancouver Opera, Parvin Mirhady to work with the students. “We love working with Parvin. She’s exceptional,” says Waddell, “As a paid professional, she is an expert on each era so we’ve been able to pull costumes that are completely accurate to the time period.”

The two operas demanded two completely different sets of costumes, to stay true to the vastly different time periods, 500 years apart.

Waddell says, “The second opera, Gianni Schicchi, is set in the medieval period, specifically in 1299. It’s particularly exciting for UBC Opera because it’s been ages since we did something requiring medieval costumes. There are some wonderful gowns on the matriarchs of the family with such intricate, incredible embroidery on some of the vests.”

“I would say these are good first operas. It’s nice because they aren’t dense, not hours and hours long. It’s a treat to have such two diverse operas performed in one evening.”

Waddell describes the first opera as a little dark and calls the humorous second one, “a lighter dream.”

For a fraction of the cost of Vancouver Opera tickets at the 3,000 seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre, patrons can experience this visual and musical spectacle in a venue more the size of our own Gateway Theatre that holds hundreds, not thousands. It’s a chance to see the stars of tomorrow.

Waddell loves her studies, loves her work and loves her adopted city: “It was so much easier to acclimatize to. That’s what I miss about Alberta, the open space. Richmond felt a little more like home.”

Of her new life as an opera student and costumer, she describes the upcoming offering, “It’s beautiful. It’s really really well done.”

Even if you have never tried opera, Waddell encourages neophytes to give these performances, with live orchestra and singers, a try.

“People who think opera is boring will find they are sorely mistaken if they come and see these shows because it’s wonderful.”

Waddell says you will laugh out loud in the second opera. For the first one, she says, better bring your hankie.

Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini UBC Opera Ensemble with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra In Italian with English surtitles™

Old Auditorium, 6344 Memorial Rd., UBC, June 21 to 23 at 7:30 p.m. and June 24 at 2 p.m.

For tickets click, call 604.822.6725 or in person at the Old Auditorium Box Office.

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