Welcome to DePaul Download. I'm your host Linda Blakley. In March of 2020,
DePaul cut the ribbon on the Sacha and Eugene Jarvis Opera Hall. But as the
pandemic took hold, its initial performances were canceled. This November,
the opera hall will finally host its premiere show.
On this episode, we take you behind the scenes of the show. We're joined by
Harry Silverstein. He's the director of DePaul Opera Theatre, and chair of
musical performance in the School of Music. Harry joins us today to talk
about the renovated performance hall and how its unique design will serve
opera students, other performers and the community. Welcome, Harry.
Thank you so much, Linda. It's really a pleasure to be here with you. I
appreciate that you've asked me.
We heard that wonderful clip at the beginning of one of your students
rehearsing for the upcoming performance of La Calisto. For those listeners
who, like me, may not be as familiar with opera, what are the
characteristics of the discipline?
I think the difference between opera and spoken theater, for instance, is
that people are singing the things that they have to say, instead of just
speaking them. And I think what makes it a really brilliant art form is
that it becomes incumbent upon us as the artists who are performing it to
make things so important that the audience feel there's a reason for people
to be singing instead of talking. Since I think Linda, neither you nor I
when we're at the bus stop, sing to the people who are there with us. So
there's something so special about the art form, that everything is a
little larger than life a little more important than life.
And, in addition to that some things about opera that make it special are
the size of the orchestra. If we got to the lyric, sometimes there's many
as 110 musicians that are playing this beautiful music. And then the
singers in opera, as the form was originally conceived, don't have
microphones. So you have these incredible vocal artists who are able to be
heard over 110 orchestra and 80 members of the chorus, and still really
have this effect on us.
It’s theater in every sense of the word.
Yes, absolutely. One of the very first things that I teach my students, the
freshmen when they come in our first day is, I ask them, "What is the
difference between acting and singing?" And they all have this very
detailed discussion about rhythm and pitch and through lines. And in the
end, we all end up agreeing that in effect, these are the same thing. Just
were a little louder, or a little more beautifully done. But all in all,
we're all telling a story.
So our producers visited a recent rehearsal to get a feel for the space and
their performance. Let's take a listen.
[Scene from La Calisto rehearsal]
Tell us a bit about what's happening in the scene you’re directing and how
it fits into the plot of La Calisto.
So this is a really fun part of the show. One of our main characters based
on the half-man, half-goat god Pan has been pursuing the goddess Diana
really for some time, and their relationship just isn't working out very
well. And Sylvan, who is one of the people from Pan's football team, if you
might, you know someone who supports him in his life in the forest, is
trying to make him feel better. And what was interesting for me with a
person playing a role in the moment was that he says several times in a row
the same word resucita, which translates to: "Oh, feel better. I
think everything will be alright." And we wonder why or how can we make
these repetitions really interesting. And what is causing the character to
say these things at this moment? So most of my encouragement there was
attempting to excite the performer more about the things that he was
When the performers are rehearsing, we're just hearing them and a
harpsichord. Is that what the audience can expect when they go to see La
So no, there will be a really exciting, baroque size orchestra. So we will
have some contemporary instruments and some baroque instruments. The actual
performance will be with three harpsichord and violins and a bass and
percussion, and then two, baroque instruments, baroque harp and a baroque,
essentially what became the cello. And I think this will make for a really
exciting, beautiful sound.
Let's talk about the hall itself. It was the performing arts than before
being rehabbed. What changes make it specifically an opera hall?
There are a few things that I think are really special about a place where
opera can happen. And it just requires a significant investment from the
university in order to give us the best possible venue for making opera.
And so we need a stage, of course, you know, and we have an orchestra pit.
And this seems rudimentary in a way. But it's extremely important to be
able to have what's happening on the stage, and then a place for the
orchestra to be in between what's happening on the stage and us as an
audience. And then, and this is one of the real areas of brilliance of this
hall, that the acoustics of the space must support both the sound of the
orchestra and the sound of the singers, and allow both to express
themselves beautifully. And particularly since we've come specifically to
hear the singer sing, to give them the possibility to be heard over the
orchestra while we're still getting all beautifully blended together.
Another thing that we get that's truly marvelous -- I'm not sure if you had
a chance to be in our old theater Linda, but it was a church. And so it was
pews. And for two and a half hours of opera, sometimes the pews were not
quite so wonderful to sit in. And now we have a fantastic front of the
house, beautifully done theater with the wonderful seating and very
convenient and set up in a way that everyone can see the stage. So all of
these elements really support us in being able to enjoy the opera without
One of the operas I've had the privilege of seeing was Tosca at the Sydney
Opera House, a huge, iconic hall. Our opera Hall is obviously much smaller.
How does that change the experience for performers and the audience?
There are two things that happened as a result of that. Now, the opera
because of the size of the voices and the size of the orchestra has often
found its way into very large halls, and that there's quite the experience
being in a space with 150 musicians. And the experience that we'll get in
Jarvis Hall is slightly different than that. And conversely, it's
brilliantly set up for young people who are just embarking upon a career
and gives them a chance to fill the space with their voices without having
to worry about performing for 4,000 people. And in addition, I think a
marvelous thing about it is that it gives us a really intimate experience
between the performers and the audience. And as it turns out, particularly
with Baroque opera, which was at its invention, appearing in similar size
venues to the one that we have. So I think that the experience for both the
singers and the audience is going to be really special in this opera house.
The performers in La Calisto are primarily students. How will the new hall
improve DePaul's opera program?
First off, we get to rehearse in the space that we perform in. It is an
incredible luxury. Virtually no one gets this opportunity anywhere, mostly
because the expense of trying to rent a theater for five or six weeks,
which is the period of time that we rehearse. Secondly, the attractive
nature of this hall that this reflects beautifully on the program, on the
School of Music, on DePaul University. And it's exciting to the students.
The first time I was able to walk them through the space, their eyes were
the size of saucers to be able to be in such a beautiful, wonderful,
exciting theatrical experience, without even anything on the stage yet.
Finally, there are times that the venue can actually distract from the work
that's being done. So for instance, the noise that's outside the theater,
or if you had had a chance to see our operas in the old venue, we actually
had the orchestra on stage with performers, the orchestra on one half of
the stage and then performers on the other half of the stage. And it was an
interesting experience. But I think that each distracted from the other,
instead of being able to fully support each other as they are now. And I
think those are all things that are truly special to having a new theater
with new performances.
In addition to helping students, the School of Music is hoping the hall
will also be a community space. Tell me more about what that will look
Well, do you know our dream is twofold regarding our relationship to the
community from the opera program. And the first part is our invitation for
the community to join us. The possibility for people to see opera, which I
think is the greatest art form there is significant for people who are
seeing perhaps the first opera or haven't had a chance to be involved in
anything like this. And our ticket price is very low $10, $5. And we even
support community members coming in for no cost. And in this way, we're
sharing our art form with a community that we're in. Then equally, this is
a brilliant space and opera program, although we perform three times a
year, still do not take up all of the weeks that are available during the
year. And this gives us an opportunity to support other people making opera
in Chicago in our fantastic space. Thus, people are coming here to perform,
and people are coming here in order to enjoy the art form. And we're
excited by both of those opportunities.
That says a lot about the students and about the program. What would you
say to community members who are intimidated by opera or think it's not
quite for them? How would you encourage them to attend a performance?
We somehow gotten a picture of opera, I think mostly from Bugs Bunny
cartoons, that it is somehow difficult or frightening or not for everyone.
And the absolute converse is true that it's completely for everyone. And
it's an audience of people that are there to enjoy an art form. And
everyone doesn't wear white tie and tails to go to the opera. Instead,
we're happy for you to come in jeans and a T shirt. And just come in and
sit down. Share a little time with us and experience something that you
will remember certainly for the rest of your life.
On that note, the La Calisto performance is on November 12th and
14th. How can listeners buy tickets?
Oh, great question, Linda. Thank you very much. So the very easiest way is
to find us online at DePaul University School of Music site where you will
be able to buy tickets online. People are also welcome to call us in our
box office. There's a box office in the Holtschneider Performance Center,
which is adjacent to the opera building. I would add this specifically for
the performance of La Calisto that as is the case in Chicago that you'll
have to bring proof of being vaccinated and also as is the case currently
in Chicago, everyone is wearing a mask.
Are there other upcoming performances this school year that listeners
should be on the lookout for?
You bet. So the DePaul Opera Theatre performs three times each year and we
have a very exciting schedule for the rest of this year. So along with La
Calisto in November, we're doing Verdi's opera Falstaff in March. And then
we're doing the Leonard Bernstein opera musical theater piece called
Candide and that performs in June.
Well, we will watch for those events. We hope to hear more about the opera
program and its successes in the new hall. Thank you for being on the
Well, thank you, Linda, for having me very much.
For more about the opera hall and School of Music's performances, check out
their website music.depaul.edu. I'm your host, Linda Blakely. Thank you for
listening to DePaul Download, presented by DePaul's division of University
Marketing and Communications.