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JASMINE MUHAMMAD AND KYLE OLIVER IN “IL MATRIMONIO SEGRETO” (Photo by David Bachman)
The musical genre of opera chose Kyle Oliver and Jasmine Muhammad.
“It’s a question of exposure when it comes to opera. People think its long and boring and they put negative connotations on it because they are not exposed to it,” said Oliver a Dallas baritone who holds a master’s degree in music from the Juilliard School and a bachelor’s degree in music from Northwestern University. “When I started college, I really didn’t think I would become a singer because I was a double major with engineering and music and I realized I didn’t enjoy engineering.”
“I think the main reason Opera is not such a preserved art form is because people don’t know about it and if the parents aren’t exposed to it, they don’t expose their kids to it,” said Muhammad, a Virginia native who holds degrees from Manhattan School of Music and Chicago College of Performing Arts. “They need to implement it in schools so that kids can have access to it. My talent is God given and it shined more in opera and it felt like a responsibility for me to hone it.”
Both singers were excited to be able to showcase their talents as cast members in the Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist production of Domenico Cimaron’s “IL Matrimonio Segreto’—The Secret Marriage.”
First performed in 1792 in Vienna, “The Secret Marriage” is based on the English play, “The Clandestine Marriage,” a satire of 18th century views of an arranged marriage gone wrong. The audience is transported to the household of Geronimo, a wealthy merchant and his two daughters, Elisetta and Carolina and his sister, Fidalma who runs the household. Geronimo also has a young clerk, Paolino who is secretly married to Carolina.
Paolino is working to arrange a marriage between Elisetta and Count Robinson hoping that when Elisetta is well married, Paolino’s marriage to Carolina will be acceptable. Count Robinson has written a letter expressing interest—tempted by Elisetta’s considerable dowry—and Geronimo is thrilled to think that his daughter will be a Countess.
When the Count arrives he is disappointed to find that it is not Carolina who has been promised to him, but Elisetta. Count Robinson tells Paolino that he will be happy with a smaller dowry if he can wed Carolina and sends Paolino off to arrange the match. Geronimo insists that the count must honor his contract and marry Elisetta, but Count Robinson refuses. When the count offers to take a smaller dowry for Carolina’s hand, Geronimo agrees, delighted to save face and money—as long as Elisetta agrees. She doesn’t.
Count Robinson makes up a lie telling Elisetta that he has many bad habits and physical defects in an effort to try to dissuade her from wanting to marry him. She holds firm and the count finally confesses that he does not care for her and thus cannot marry her.
After a brilliant and funny finale, Paolino and Carolina finally confess that they are already married and the count and Elisetta advise her father and aunt to forgive the loving couple and announce that she and the count will marry after all.
“This is definitely a good show. It’s surprisingly funny, it’s not too long. It’s a cute show that’s relatable because it focuses on love, family and marriage,” explained Muhammad who portrayed the sassy Elisetta.
Oliver portrayed the dashing Count Robinson.
“Playing this character was fun. I had to memorize the music and the lyrics, but I got the chance to stretch my comedic muscles. We had fun putting it together,” said Oliver who typically plays more serious opera characters.
“IL Matrimonio’s” run is the culmination of an intense period of training for Oliver, Muhammad and the other members of the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Program.
“The training regimen we provide for our resident artists is exhausting and tests their commitment to the art form,” said Pittsburgh Opera General Manager Christopher Hahn. “Private coaching sessions with resident music staff are complemented by rehearsals for roles in main stage productions, sessions with guest instructors and distinguished artists and an extensive calendar of public and private concerts, recitals and outreach performances. By the end of a two-year residency, our Resident Artists are ready to begin competing for work on stages around the world.”
Muhammad is in her first year with the program while Oliver is a second-year resident.
“You learn from others what makes them successful and how to conduct yourself as a professional,” Oliver said.
“This program helps you navigate this opera lifestyle,” said Muhammad. “I’m living a dream. You get paid to play, and you find out what it takes to be successful and happy.”
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