Young Maestro Makes Rare Opera a Big Success

By chance, I learned about a graduating conductor student, Matthew Bertuzzi, from UMASS Amherst, who was producing and conducting a rare opera, Rita, by Gaetano Donizetti. I was so surprised to learn that I had the chance to see an opera I thought I would never see in my lifetime! As an opera educator, I use the tenor aria, ”Allegro io son,” from Rita to showcase tenor Juan Diego Florez, comic opera and bel canto music.

Naturally, I contacted Matthew about his interest and choice in doing Rita as his final graduate piece. As Matthew tells it, “I worked last summer at an opera festival in Urbania, Italy where our scenes program did the Rita/Beppe duet. Once I learned that there was only a three singer cast, I knew it was perfect for my recital.” Matthew graciously invited my class and me to attend his opera production.

Matthew also sent me the press release for his opera production which I found extremely informative.

Italian Opera comes to UMASS Amherst
Student Production Breaks New Ground
Amherst, Massachusetts – The University of Massachusetts Amherst will play host to its first ever student produced and conducted opera. Matthew Bertuzzi, a graduate student in orchestral conducting and resident of Longmeadow, will conduct the orchestra and cast of singers in Gaetano Donizetti’s Rita on Saturday April 10th at 5PM in Bowker Auditorium at UMass.
Rita, a 19th century inn and tavern owner, is the wife of the always subordinate Beppe, who fears that her every move will result in another beating. Rita learned how to keep her husband in line from her first mate, Gasparo, who died in a shipwreck. When Gasparo magically appears after surviving the high seas, Beppe sees his opportunity to escape. After gambling in an old Italian game of rock-paper-scissors, drawing straws, and nearly coming to blows, Beppe is single again and Gasparo is left with the shrew he created. The finale however, which always holds the last operatic plot twist, frees Gasparo and leaves Beppe with Rita, who thankfully has a newfound affection for him.
The production, which has been in the works for nearly a year, will feature Kate Saik as Rita, John Hager Flores as Beppe, and Joseph Beckwith as Gasparo. A junior at UMass Amherst, Saik made her operatic debut as Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata with the Eldbrooke Artist Series in Washington D.C. Hager Flores, a professional tenor from New York City, sang with Bertuzzi last summer with the Rossini Festival Orchestra in Urbania, Italy in another of Donizetti’s operas, L’elisir d’amore. Beckwith, also a junior in the Department of Music and Dance, is performing in his first fully staged and orchestrated opera.
This ground breaking student production is directed by two world renowned performers of opera and UMass Department Music and Dance Professors Amy Johnson and Lanfranco Marcelletti.
Donizetti’s Rita is made possible (in part) by a grant from the UMass Arts Council. The performance is free and open to the public. For more information visit www.matthewbertuzzi.com.

Last Saturday night my son Philip and his girlfriend Claire drove to Amherst to see Rita with me. My son was “weaned on opera” and also can play the violin quite well (I’m allowed to play proud father once-in-a-while). Thus, Philip was able to critique the opera performance from a musical standpoint. This was Claire’s first opera ever, and although she said, “It was better than I expected,” I could sense that she really enjoyed the whole experience. Philip tends to listen with a very critical ear, as I do. Kate Saik, as Rita, was absolutely stunning. Her musical interpretation of Rita was top-notch and had acting chops to match. She has such a lovely soprano voice. John Hager Flores was phenomenal. He played a fantastic “commedia del arte,” country bumpkin character of a man beaten by his wife and too afraid to defend himself. Yet he was so sympathetic! He did justice to the great tenor aria, “Allegro io son”, masterfully singing the lyrical bel canto style. Joseph Beckwith, mentioned in the English dialogue during the opera, displayed a large baritone voice and followed suit with the entire trio as he sang beautiful bel canto. However I did detect an American accented Italian. I presume that was because as Gasparo, he had spent much of his time in Canada and had lost his Italian accent.

Kudos must go to Matthew Bertuzzi as well. Matt has a striking Italianate style of conducting, capturing the Southern Italian musical nuances of Donizetti (even though he composed Rita in France). A conductor can really make or break an opera, and I have a few stories to tell about that, but we’re talking about Matt here – his confident conducting technique kept the entire opera going smoothly. Since Matthew broke new ground at UMASS Amherst, I suggested he continue to put his mark on opera there.

After the performance on Saturday, I invited Matthew to give a music lesson to my opera class in Springfield, MA. Matthew explained his work with Rita and how he managed to put it together. He was both producer and conductor and he obtained a grant from the UMASS arts council and auditioned singers in the Massachusetts area. Giving his hired, volunteer singers three months to learn their roles, he then began extensive rehearsals. Matthew did have help from about 25 student volunteers with sets, props, costumes and audio and video equipment. Matt’s teachers, soprano, Amy Johnson, and his mentor and conductor, Lanfranco Marcelletti Jr., helped shape his love and appreciation for opera.

Matthew Bertuzzi is a lively and animated teacher. I saw him in action in both conducting an opera and explaining his craft to my class, of who, incidentally, very much enjoyed the “master class”. Matthew has been on the journey to conduct since he was in the 10th grade at Longmeadow High School in Longmeadow, MA. He was a cellist and became very familiar with symphonic music. Working on conducting with Lanfranco Marcelletti Jr. opened Matthew’s eyes to the genre of opera. He discovered, as did this opera buff long ago, opera’s unique unification with all of the arts.

We at OperaPulse wish Matthew much success (toi, toi) as he continues his work as a conductor and teacher. I look forward to working with Matthew in the near future.