Watch an engaging video of “The Elixir of Love,” a two-act opera by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, on Friday, February 19, at 7 p.m. at westmont.edu/music. After months of socially distant rehearsals and three days of challenging but safe videotaping, the Westmont Music Department presents its latest opera. Alumna Christina (Farris) Jensen ’09 returned to Santa Barbara to serve as stage director for the production during the pandemic.
“I’ve never worked with such an outstanding group of professionals and students, completely devoted to creating a moment of artistic beauty in the midst of such challenging times,” she says. “I don’t think any of us has worked under such tenuous conditions, when the future of the project hangs in the balance every day, even every minute.”
Despite the college’s rigorous testing, several students in the production considerately self-quarantined after possible COVID-19 exposures. “We had our ups and downs with students coming in and out of the production,” she says. “Under such strange circumstances, we were able to work together to create a piece of art whose historic roots continue to live in the bodies and souls of Westmont students and to speak relevantly to a new generation of art lovers. That sweet moment of completion is my greatest reward.”
The opera was staged specifically for video production in cooperation with Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara’s Paseo Nuevo Mall. Both the theater and the entire opera production cast, orchestra and crew were subject to enhanced testing and health protocols to make it possible for them to participate in the show.
Michael Shasberger, Adams professor of music and worship, served as music director for the production, which features the full Westmont Orchestra. Sara Rockabrand is vocal director.
“We have interesting stories to tell and an interesting time in which to tell them,” Shasberger says. “The story focuses on a peddler selling a magic elixir that does almost anything including solving problems of love — and possibly a cure for COVID-19. The opera is best known for the famous tenor aria ‘Una furtiva lagrima,’ its charming choruses, brilliant soprano arias and the comic baritone roles.” Shasberger says the aria, which will be sung in the original Italian, includes post-production features including special cameos.
Senior Jessica Lingua, double major in voice performance and biology, stars as Adina in a brilliant coloratura role. Sophomore voice major Sibo Msibi plays the leading tenor role of Nemorino, while senior Justin Sharp and first-year Sean Ryan are featured in the baritone roles of Sargent Bellcore and Doctor Dulcamara. Senior music major Hailey Hoang portrays the mezzo role of Giannetta.
“The leading roles are supported by an enthusiastic chorus and sparkling chamber orchestra,” Shasberger says.
Jensen, who has directed opera productions for small companies in the Los Angeles area, decided to film “The Elixir of Love” out of sequence. “We wanted to give the students an additional challenge and opportunity to work in a more film-like environment where order is irrelevant,” she says. “We also hoped to keep contact at a minimum. The students rose to the challenge of performing in such a different way.”
The Center Stage staff generously removed several rows of audience seating for the socially distant orchestra and cooperated with efforts to hang fabric and lights, which the video team of Verité generously provided.