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UCSC Opera brings beloved Victorian tale to life


Little Women, the Victorian-era novel by American author Louisa May Alcott, was a huge success in its day. And it still is. Set in the autobiographical environment of Alcott's own New England chilhood, the book follows the hopes and dreams of four sisters at the end of the 19th century.  Beautiful Meg is the eldest and helps run the household. Jo is the tomboy who loves reading, writing and theater. The youngest sisters Beth and Amy add much of the bittersweet tension to this story of growing up, facing life's realities and making dreams come true.


On May 31 Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel comes to the UCSC stage. [For tickets and times visit "Events."] Artistic director Brian Staufenbiel, conductor Nicole Paiement and a cast of outstanding young singers will bring the tale to life once again in Mark Adamo's acclaimed opera Little Women, which premiered in 1998.  With wit, sentimental charm, and a vibrant score the beloved coming-of-age tale is destined to appeal to both university audiences as well as the broad cultural community. Paiement and Staufenbiel are currently deep in the final round of rehearsals with top singers from UCSC's music program.


"We work a year in advance," Paiement admits. "For example we are now working on our choice for next season's opera." As far as selection goes, "there are lots of criteria," the conductor continues.  "The style of the opera is one thing— we usually like to offer something more contemporary and then alternate it with Mozart," she grins.  "Also we have to think of who we have as singers, who we have for the orchestra, our community, what will attract the audience. And of course," she pauses, "costs."


Director Brian Staufenbiel believes that this upcoming production has been easier than past ones, in the sense that "the more productions we do, the easier the process." But there have been challenges in mounting the Adamo opera. "The music is very difficult," Staufenbiel adds. " I have been very proud of our students for their diligence in learning this music." Paiement agrees. "It has been difficult at first, for singers and the orchestra as well. But once it is in their ear, it goes well."


Paiement explains the arduous process of preparing for an opera production. "We audition in Spring for the following year. So students can go home and learn the music during the summer." Then the opera is worked on through music classes during both Fall and Winter quarters. "In the Spring quarter," Paiement continues, "we do the staging, and by this time they will be rehearsing almost every day.  We are giving a lot of experience to our singers," she adds with pride.


"We chose Little Women because we are really very interested in contemporary opera, and this provides a great initiation to contemporary opera for our singers. It's important for them to sing opera of a living composer. And we have the singers capable of doing this music. There is a nice balance of beautiful arias and difficult, contemporary sounds." Staufenbiel notes that Adamo's libretto draws its larger story from the novel, but believes that "the opera's inner structure is different. Lovers of the novel will notice and I hope enjoy the similarities. But there are subtle differences in the story and back-story."


After such an end-of-the-year schedule, do Paiement and Staufenbiel—partners in both professional and personal life—head off for some remote island well-equipped with lounge chairs and ear plugs?  No, Paiement laughs.  "We will immediately leave for the east coast, where we where we have been asked to participate in an opera conference." Then both will be directing even more orchestra and opera performances.


Little Women, an opera by Mark Adamo, plays at the Music Recital Hall from May 31 - June 3. 

For tickets and times click HERE.