Renowned American composer, conductor and music administrator Michael Ching was commissioned to write the words and music of "Notes on Viardot" for the USD Opera.

“It is uncommon for a university of our size to commission a three-act opera and produce a world premiere by a renowned composer,” said Tracelyn Gesteland, DMA, professor of voice/opera and Walter A. and Lucy Yoshioka Buhler Endowed Chair. “A project of this type is usually reserved for conservatories or large university opera programs. The ability for USD Opera to take on such a large-scale venture speaks not only to the talent and dedication of our voice and orchestra students, but also to the commitment to and support of the opera program from faculty, administrators, our donor base and the community at large.”

USD Opera students, including singers and orchestra players, have had the unique opportunity to be immersed in the process of creating a new work, from rehearsals and rewrites to presenting a world premiere of an opera tailored toward their voices and performance skills.

“For university students to be able to list themselves on a resume as an originator of an opera role is almost unheard of and will set them apart from competitors in both the performance and teaching arenas,” said Gesteland. “Furthermore, their names will be forever immortalized in the opera score for all future directors and performers to see.”

“Notes on Viardot” is based on the intriguing life of opera diva Pauline Viardot. Viardot was an internationally famed singer, highly respected voice teacher, exemplary pianist and gifted composer who came from a prominent, high-powered musical family living in Paris, France, in the 19th Century.

The opera takes a behind-the-scenes look at Viardot’s professional and personal life, including her rumored affair with Russian poet Ivan Turgenev all while married to Louis Viardot, a man 21 years her senior. Along the journey of her life, audience members will meet an array of Viardot’s famous friends, family and colleagues, including George Sand, Clara Schumann, Maria Malibran and more.

In commissioning the new work, Gesteland said it was important for her to feature a strong female protagonist along with several roles for women.

“So many operas contain one or two female roles alongside a plethora of male roles, and often the women are subservient, ill or wicked,” said Gesteland. “I wanted to add a work to the operatic canon that showed women as powerful and capable of greatness based on their own merits. Our composer found Viardot’s story interesting and thought that her life and work as a pioneering figure in a male-dominated era would be a great subject for an opera.”

Performances of “Notes on Viardot” are scheduled for Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, at 3 p.m. in Aalfs Auditorium. Tickets are available online beginning March 23 or at the door one hour before curtain.

“There are so many reasons to attend ‘Notes on Viardot,’ whether you are an avid operagoer or someone completely new to opera,” said Gesteland. “You have the chance to see something before anyone else in the world. The show is fun, the music is tuneful and enjoyable, and the visual aspect of the production will far exceed the level of past productions.

“With a cast of 47 on stage in costumes of the Victorian era under captivating lighting along with projections and our most elaborate set yet, you will want to experience the spectacle of live opera,” she continued.  

The opera will be available to other universities, opera companies and audiences worldwide upon its publication.

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