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Berklee Finds Harmonic Convergence in Opera Collaborations

Andrew Altenbach (pictured in the middle), music director of opera at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, conducts a recording session for The Leopard, a new opera by composer Michael Dellaira.

Among the many areas of collaboration that are now possible since Berklee merged with Boston Conservatory, a more pronounced focus on opera is one that Johnathon Pape, director of opera studies at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, was, for obvious reasons, particularly excited about. His vision for an opera summer program, for instance, was “a dream right from the beginning,” he said. By the end of August 2016—a mere three months after the merger was official—the Boston Conservatory Opera Intensive at Valencia was green-lighted for summer 2017.

The program—a perfect match for Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain, faculty, and state-of-the-art facilities, including the world-renowned Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia—gives opera singers the chance to hone their skills as well as receive instruction on how to build a lasting career in the opera world.

Collaboration means innovation

And while the summer program felt like an obvious step forward after the merger, part of the excitement is also where the collaborations show up in less predictable ways. Case in point, The Leopard—a new opera composed by Michael Dellaira and based on a popular Italian novel of the same name. The American Opera Project commissioned the piece to be workshopped, and chose Andrew Altenbach, music director of opera at the Conservatory, to conduct it.

In March 2016, Altenbach drew on College and Conservatory student talent to workshop a handful of scenes from Dellaira’s as-yet-unproduced opera, helping develop the production work toward the aim of eventually finding a home for it in America and/or Europe. To get to that level, however, Dellaira, in concert with American Opera Project, needed a high quality audio recording of opera selections that could be submitted to opera houses. “To see or hear is better than handing over a printed score,” Pape pointed out.

Enter Berklee College of Music’s engineering students and state-of-the-art recording facilities.

“Using our singers at the Conservatory for the piece's development and to incorporate the Berklee engineers was a no-brainer,” Altenbach said of the recording project. “We were thrilled to make it work.”

Listen to the song "Sleep," recorded during The Leopard sessions at Berklee:

One stop Opera Shop

The combined institution became a one-stop shop for The Leopard, from score development to tangible materials. As Pape described it, “This was a harmonic convergence of resources. And this is exactly the kind of thing we can do so well as a merged institution—from players to technicians to space.” The project ultimately showcases just one of the many unexpected ways the combined institutional talents can contribute to student as well artistic success. As Pape went on to reflect, “This is an example of something that wouldn’t have happened for either institution beforehand, and as such, is a testament to the vision of the merger.”

Watch a video of the Leopard track "I Am Angelica," featuring Conservatory student vocalist Lauren Cook, filmed during the sessions at the Shames Family Scoring Stage:

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