Sunday, June 17, 2018

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Rising opera talent Amanda Olea takes the lead in "Elixir of Love." Rising opera talent Amanda Olea takes the lead in "Elixir of Love."

Opera Takes the Stage

The show highlights SDSU’s new opera director and a rising talent.
By Teresa Monaco

This semester’s opera, “Elixir of Love,” runs Nov. 18-20 in San Diego State University’s Smith Recital Hall. This production is particularly significant as it showcases a rising talent from SDSU’s vocal department, Amanda Olea, and the school’s new opera director, Ashraf Sewailam.

Rising to the challenge

“Elixir of Love” is a two-act comic opera written in 1832 by Gaetano Donizetti. Sweailam has set it in a 1950’s Brooklyn high school, much like the movie "Grease." Olea will be singing the principle female role of Adina.

“I was really excited when Elixir was announced as our next opera because Adina has been one of my dream roles for a very long time,” said Olea. “The rehearsal process has been fulfilling and rewarding in many ways.”

Both Olea and Sewailam cite “Elixir of Love” as a great learning opportunity for the student singers at SDSU.

“The music in this the show is very technically difficult and it is quite a challenge for all of the singers in this opera,” said Olea. "I am always looking to be challenged and pushed in ways that I haven't been before and that is exactly what this music has done.”

Sewailam’s comment echoes Olea’s, but from a teacher’s perspective.

“It’s the perfect opera for students, challenging enough to force them to grow and step up to its demands, yet not too challenging vocally that it would be harmful to their voices,” said Sewailam. “We can utilize many of our students in the chorus and give them a chance to learn being on stage in a safe environment.”

A different approach to opera

Sewailam seeks to bring a new dynamic to the SDSU School of Music and Dance.

“I am a firm believer that an opera singer should aim to actually become a singing actor,” Sewailam said. “This means that we should train our students as professional actors just as much as singers.”

He acknowledges the importance of upholding opera’s dramatic relevance in order to preserve it as an art form.

“I use rehearsals as a vehicle to teach acting and stage deportment for everyone. Next semester, I am enlisting the collaboration from faculty in the theater department to train acting, movement, and dance.”

Pushing comfort zones

The new opera director position poses challenges for Sewailam, but it’s nothing that he can’t handle. He taught at the American University in Cairo for six years between his master’s and doctoral programs.

“I produced concerts, conducted choirs, taught appreciation classes and voice lessons, but I have never stage directed an opera or even a scene," Sewailam said. “The appointment to which I was recruited opened my eyes to an area of the business that I had never thought about, yet I am now enjoying immensely.”

Playing a complex role like Adina also pushes Olea, but she credits working with Sewailam as tremendously helpful in jumping this operatic hurdle.

“Ashraf (Sewailam) has really worked with me to figure out why Adina is the way she is,” said Olea. “If I would’ve done this role two years ago, I don’t think I would’ve been able to portray her to her full potential. Because I’ve had such great experiences with the teachers at SDSU, I have grown as a performer and singer, and this role is perfect for where I am right now.”

Tickets are now available for purchase.