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The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Cosmia Opera Collective breathes life into opera, uplifts underrepresented composers

Contributed by Declan Franey
The Cosmia Opera Collective staged “devoted” in the Ryan Opera Theatre on March 30.

Move over, Verdi — there’s a new generation in opera. The Cosmia Opera Collective is bringing students’ work to life, especially that of historically marginalized composers.

According to Bienen sophomore Cecelia Olszewski, who founded the collective this year using a grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research, it empowers students to self-advocate for their work. She said their work often combines modernity with antiquity.

“The idea of contemporary opera is to revitalize and bring life to a genre that a lot of people consider to be dead, and opera is not dead,” Olszewski said. “Opera isn’t going anywhere. Opera is always shifting and changing, but it’s never going to die as an art form.”

The collective’s first show, “devoted,” which played in the Ryan Opera Theatre on March 30, follows the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene after they have died and found themselves in a “teenage girl bedroom purgatory.”

The characters reflect on the biblical events they bore witness to and their relationship with Jesus — someone who “took everything from them.”

Bienen sophomore Isabel Yang, who starred as the Virgin Mary, said she has struggled to find her place in a historically white-dominated classical field. She added accessibility to the music was a priority for the collective, which also offered free admission to “devoted.”

“I had only really sung purely operatic roles, and this was a mix of styles,” she said. “It wasn’t purely classical, although a lot of it was. It was just a really new experience.”

A student-organized seminar produced the show this spring, and students had the opportunity to earn class credit. Alumni also participated in “devoted.”

Seth Lauver (Bienen ’23), who played vibraphone for the show, said one Cosmia Opera Collective goal is to support young musicians with diverse perspectives.

“That’s actually a bit of a discourse in the classical music community, that no one ever plays music by composers that are still alive,” Lauver said. “It’s always people who have been dead for hundreds of years.”

The show also starred Azalea Twining, a Columbia University freshman, as Mary Magdalene. Cosmia flew Twining in using an alumni fund from Luna Composition Lab — a program which provides mentorship for young composers — where Twining and Olszewski met.

Olszewski said the Luna Composition Lab and the summer festival Wildflower Composers were crucial for finding her community in spaces for female and gender-nonconforming musicians.

“I had these two really strong backbones supporting me as I entered college in this male-dominated space,” she said. “That’s the main reason why I feel so confident with this idea of self-advocacy, because of that upbringing.”

The collective will release a 40-minute recording of “devoted” by the end of the month on Vimeo and YouTube.

Yang said the Cosmia Opera Collective hopes to continue supporting student-directed and student-casted performances. She added that she envisions another student-organized seminar in collaboration with Bienen’s undergraduate opera company.

“I really want to be a part of contemporary music, contemporary operas that really shape and shift the definition of the genre itself and that new audiences can enjoy,” she said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jillian_moore7

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