Aria Mixtape – Opera Scenes at UCSB offers short and sweet dips into the repertoire

Most operas clock in at anything from 21/2 to 5 hours — especially if you’re Richard Wagner — and take weeks to put on, so how can a stable of eager singers get in their chance for a lead role? Also, how can the opera lover keep up with the evolving world of modern music when so few companies want to take a chance outside the standard canon of works? UCSB Opera Workshop’s “Opera Scenes,” this Saturday and Sunday, answers that need, with nine scenes from both obscure and well-known works.

A success last year, “Opera Scenes” returns for an evening that features selections from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” and “Die Zauberflute,” Seymour Barab’s “A Game of Chance,” Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride,” Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment,” Cimarosa’s “Il matrimonio segreto,” Verdi’s “Attila,” Floyd’s “Of Mice and Men,” and Offenbach’s “R.S.V.P.”

2011 Opera Scene BRH' CHFE 2010 Opera Scenes Randall Lamb photos
2011 Opera Scene
BRH’ CHFE 2010 Opera Scenes
Randall Lamb photos
Only the most devoted fan would have seen all of these works, or at least know about them. Everybody knows Verdi, but “Attila” rarely gets a look.

The two men behind this eclectic selection, Benjamin Brecher, head of UCSB’s Vocal Program and a tenor, and Paul Sahuc, baritone and lecturer in the department, have a friendship that goes way back.

Mr. Sahuc hails from “the hub city of the Cajun people” Lafayette, in Louisiana, and it’s apparent in his accent. He met Mr. Brecher when he took over as voice instructor at Bowling Green University in Ohio. “He was just a young sophomore and I was the youngest faculty member, in my 20s. We’re about 10 years apart.”

So when Mr. Brecher moved to UCSB all those years later, he brought on Mr. Sahuc after stints teaching in the Midwest. They had been in touch a little in between, but the call about the job was a surprise.

“But we see each other daily now,” he says. “We get along great.”

Mr. Brecher started the Opera Scenes event, and when Mr. Sahuc joined the faculty he pushed for performing in the original languages of the operas and adding costumes and minimal set.

The students range over everything from freshmen to vocalists going for their doctorates, “who are about to leave and go into the wide world.” For those wondering about the skill range, Mozart writes very good pieces for freshmen, while the broad range and difficult passages of Verdi make him appropriate for those in graduate programs.

American Carlisle Floyd is “one of our greatest composers” according to Mr. Sahuc, and his scene from his 1969 “Of Mice and Men,” poses very difficult challenges for the singers, especially in the tragic scene the two teachers have chosen, when Lenny accidentally kills Curley’s wife. (Is that really a spoiler? It’s opera.)

“It’s kind of a hobby of mine, choosing repertory for people,” Mr. Sahuc says. “You have to introduce people to new things. And if it’s the right thing at the right time, well so much the better. We try to introduce people to some pretty wacky stuff.”

Opera Scenes
When: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: UCSB Karl Geiringer Hall (Music 1250)
Cost: $15/$7 students

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