Marketing and PR Intern (and Temple alumna) Catherine Perez and I sat down with Resident Artist Shelley Jackson to talk about her upcoming role in The Barber of Seville, how she came to be an opera singer, and her continuing studies in Philadelphia.
Temple Grad Shelley Jackson Performs in The Barber of Seville
By Catherine Perez
As one of the best-loved and most oft-performed operas throughout the world, the music of The Barber of Seville is instantly recognizable, even if you don’t know opera. The “Overture” and “Largo al factotum” have been used in Looney Tunes’ “The Rabbit of Seville,” Woody Woodpecker’s “Barber of Seville,” and the Tom and Jerry short “The Cat Above and the Mouse Below,” as well as countless other movies and TV shows.
Now, Temple Boyer College alumna Shelley Jackson will be singing the role of Rosina in her first production as a resident artist at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts.
A native of Washington, D.C., Jackson received her M.M. in Opera from Temple’s Boyer College last year, and is now a first-year resident at the Academy of Vocal Arts. She started performing in musicals and plays at the age of 10, and was introduced to opera as a teenager living in England. “One day at the library I picked up a Maria Callas CD,” she remembers, “and that’s what I wanted to do.”
“I was also very into melodrama when I was in high school,” Jackson quips. “And opera has a lot of that!”
After studying at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and CUBEC Accademia di belcanto Mirella Freni in Italy, Jackson knew she wanted to live and study in Philadelphia. “I love the sense of history here,” she says, “And all the different neighborhoods.”
She was also drawn to the small grad program at Temple’s Boyer College, where she had the chance to train with distinguished American soprano Benita Valente, and immediately knew she wanted to train at AVA after graduation. When asked what appealed to her about AVA, Jackson answers, “What didn’t appeal to me about AVA? It’s the only program of its kind in the country, and probably in the world, in that it’s a four-year, tuition-free, high-quality opera training program.”
Barber will be Jackson’s first fully-staged performance with AVA. “I would love for students to come,” she says, hoping that young audience members will realize that opera is not as stuffy or highbrow as it might seem.
What’s appealing about Barber is that, as Jackson notes, “It’s lighthearted!” It’s a witty comedy full of outrageous scheming, hilarious disguises, and the occasional mistaken identity.
Part of what makes opera beautiful as an art form, Jackson says, is that is ostensibly far-removed, but still honest and relevant today. It’s about “real people and real problems that are relatable,” even to young audience members.
Jackson finds Barber particularly relatable, and describes it as “the typical rom-com.” Jackson plays Rosina, the ward of Doctor Bartolo, who plans to marry her. Rosina, however, has fallen in love with Count Almaviva, and they enlist a sly and ever-clever barber named Figaro to thwart Bartolo’s plans and arrange their marriage to each other. Or, as Jackson puts it, “it’s the classic boy meets girl story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, obstacles get in the way, and eventually they find their way to each other.”
But, more importantly, Barber is about great music and singing. “People are fascinated with high notes,” Jackson observes, and “There is a lot of vocal display and a lot of fireworks” in Barber. Audiences usually look forward to Figaro’s famous aria, but Jackson maintains that the real show-stopper is the First Act finale. “Everything is going crazy,” she says. “It’s very operatic… it’s one of those times where time stands still and everyone stops and sings.”
$10 student tickets are still available for The Barber of Seville at AVA’s Helen Corning Warden Theater, at 1920 Spruce Street, on November 3rd, 8th, and 10th at 7:30 pm. Student tickets are also available for performances in Haverford and Bucks County. For tickets and more information call 215.735.1685 or visit www.avaopera.org.