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Guest Director Brings New Voice to Opera Ensemble

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Photo credit: Provided by: Sam Savage

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Written by: Colby ShoupNovember 11, 2016

Don Bernardini first performed songs from “Romeo et Juliette” when he was an opera student at Indiana University. Now, 30 years later, he’s working on a college production of the show once again, this time as a director.

“I’ve been singing and directing professionally for years now and I have played over 90 roles, but I haven’t gotten to work with the material that much since I first started out,” Bernardini said. “It’s great to finally get a chance to.”

His chance will come when IPFW Opera Ensemble performs “Romeo et Juliette” at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11 and 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 13in Rhinehart Music Center.

The performance will be a condensed version of the original French opera by Charles Gounod, which is based on William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet.”

Bernardini, a former IPFW instructor who lives in Toledo, Ohio, is Opera Ensemble’s first-ever guest director. He was brought on by Sam Savage, the head of Opera Ensemble.

Savage, an associate professor and coordinator of studio voice, said he brought in Bernardini to direct so that his students could have a unique experience.

“Most of these kids have worked with me many semesters, so when this opportunity came up, I thought it would be invaluable for the kids to work with him,” Savage said. “He’s been doing it a lot longer and he does it a lot more than I have … I do a good job of directing, but he’s doing an excellent job.”

Because the opera is in French, Bernardini focused on getting the performers to convey the story entirely through gestures, facial expressions and voice inflection. This is often one of the biggest challenges for student performers, Bernardini said.

Stephen Stachofsky, a junior music education major, said another challenge for the performers has been the sword fight scene at the beginning of the opera. Stachofsky, who plays Mercutio in the show, used his stage fighting experience to help his castmates rehearse the scene.

“I’ve done work on stage choreography for fights before for things like ‘West Side Story,’” Stachofsky said. “But this is by far the most intense fight I’ve worked on because we’re using weapons that are full-sized, so they’re very heavy.”

Scenes heavy on action like this are made even more difficult by the demanding nature of singing opera, said Ryan Girardot, a senior music education major playing Father Capulet.

“With musical theater, when the music starts you sing and when the music stops you speak,” Girardot said. “In opera, you’re always singing, always counting, always moving, always thinking. You never really get a chance to be mentally detached from the music.”

Bernardini said he puts extra thought into movement and blocking when working with college students because it’s important to him they understand their characters’ motivations.

“It is really kind of moving for me to see a student get in a certain position during blocking that’s so beautiful and they don’t know it,” Bernardini said. “I tell them ‘There’s a big difference between your hand being here and being here.’ They’ll see it in pictures and videos and they’ll go ‘Oh that’s really nice. I see why he did that.’ It’s a thrill for me.”

Tickets to “Romeo et Juliet” are $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for non-IPFW students and can be purchased at the IPFW box office. Admission is free for IPFW students and kids under 18.