Originally published August 22, 2014
By Lisa Y. Garibay
UTEP News Service
What: An Evening of Music and Dance: Opera Bhutan’s Acis and Galatea
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Where: Don Haskins Center
Cost: Free. No tickets required. Seating is first come, first served.
On Aug. 19, a group of talented and ambitious UTEP students went to work on an experience that highlights the very special bond between El Paso’s university and the distant mountain kingdom of Bhutan.
Billed as an evening of music and dance for the whole family, the U.S. premiere of Opera Bhutan’s Acis and Galatea takes place at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30 at the Don Haskins Center. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the free event is open to the public.
Almost a year ago, The University of Texas at El Paso was part of something historic on Oct. 12, 2013, when students and faculty participated in the first Western opera ever performed in Bhutan, and the first opera in the world to incorporate Bhutanese music, dance and other cultural elements. The international collaboration included a cast and crew of about 70 people representing 10 different countries.
The production is being performed again at UTEP as part of the University’s Centennial celebration.
Rehearsals for the Opera Bhutan chorus – which is made up solely of UTEP students and recent graduates and led by Associate Professor Elisa Fraser Wilson, D.M.A. – began Aug. 19 and continue through next week when the group is joined by the opera’s orchestra, principal vocalists and Bhutanese performers.
These refresher sessions are not merely about singing. They also encompass choreography and a bit of acting since the chorus is collectively responsible for adding a large amount of color to a show that is rich with sensory experience.
That’s a lot resting on the shoulders of these UTEP students, but as their successful performance in Bhutan proved, they can pull it off with aplomb. They’re ready to provide a foundation for the other performers – professional opera singers from all over the world and Bhutanese dancers and musicians specializing in their own art – who are descending upon El Paso for an unforgettable show.
The students are most excited about two things: finally having family and friends see this long-awaited project come to fruition and returning the hospitality of the Bhutanese performers who welcomed the students so warmly to their country in October.
“We’re excited to show them because we’ve been talking about it for more than a year now,” said Jessica Barney, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in music education. “The whole process of putting Opera Bhutan together has been going on for about three years, so now everyone here at home finally gets to see the results.”
Senior multidisciplinary studies major Joshua Lintz is grateful for the reunion between artists.
“There was no chance I was going to see the Bhutanese performers ever again unless they came here, so I’m really excited about that,” he said. “They’re just such lovely people. We have a community of people who love music and every time we get together it’s nothing but fun.”
Opera Bhutan Production Manager and Associate Professor Steve Wilson, D.M.A., echoes the anticipation of having his hometown community witness a project in which he and other UTEP faculty and staff have invested so much. His excitement stems from having the local community get a glimpse of Bhutanese culture and “realize the close connection between UTEP and Bhutan goes much deeper than architecture,” he said.
Never before has this mix of ages-old Asian artistry and Western-world opera been woven together and brought to El Paso’s doorstep.
“I want to be able to show my family and friends and everyone here what we added from the Bhutanese culture,” said senior vocal performance major Raul Valdez. “It’s a completely different show than what would normally be done.”
“Looking back to when we were rehearsing and got to see the Bhutanese dancers, I remember thinking, ‘This is crazy – this is something that would be a shock to American audiences,’” said senior vocal performance major Mariana Sandoval. “To bring it back here and to show what we experienced over there is great. I’ve been telling people that [in Bhutan] the show cost $80 a seat, yet over here it’s completely free, so it’s a really good opportunity to come and see this opera.”
Opera Bhutan’s Acis and Galatea adapts the musical work by composer George Frideric Handel with a new setting and the addition of Bhutanese components. Along with the UTEP vocal and orchestral talents, the cast is rounded out with world-class opera vocalists Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli of Italy as Galatea, Thomas Macleay of Canada as Acis, Brian Downen of the United States as Damon and Jacques-Greg Belobo of Cameroon as Polyphemus.
The orchestra is comprised of UTEP faculty and students, while the event’s visitors from the Land of the Thunder Dragon hail from the Royal Academy of Performing Arts in Bhutan.
“I can’t wait to show the El Paso community the amazing talents of our UTEP students and faculty in this unique context combining unfamiliar Bhutanese cultural elements with familiar Western music in the form of Baroque opera,” Elisa Fraser Wilson said. “We have worked so hard on this project over a number of years, and although it was wonderful to perform in Bhutan, it will be very meaningful to share our art with our friends and family. I hope we fill the Haskins!”