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USM singers overcome pandemic challenges to perform Mozart opera

Mozart’s 229-year-old fairy tale of light and darkness — “The Magic Flute” — has likely never had a production like this.

Student opera singers from the University of Southern Maine will take the stage this April with specialty masks, each created with a voice chamber that both protects the wearer from COVID-19 and allows them to sing.

In these scenes, directed by Dr. Malinda Haslett, USM singers Olivia Christopher and Caleb Randall bring to life Papagena and Papageno, two half-bird, half-human characters drawn together by true love in Mozart's two-act opera, "The Magic Flute."

Singer Caleb Randall, a junior voice performance major, compares the mask’s shape to a duckbill.

“It provides the space near your mouth so you can sing properly with good diction,” Randall said. “Breathing is still an issue. It gets hot really quickly.”

But the heat and discomfort is balanced with the need to safely sing.

“I think the USM School of Music has done a great job of helping everyone feel safe and protected,” Randall said.

It does force opera’s acting to change.

In rehearsals, cast-mate Olivia Christopher has been adjusting her performance to allow for the fact that much of her face will be hidden from the audience.

“Part of any role is conveying emotion,” said Christopher, a music major. “You have to find so many different ways of being creative to enhance the scene.”

In part, it’s an operatic challenge, said Randall, building on the old comparison between running a marathon and performing in an opera.

Under the direction of USM’s “world-class professors,” Randall is growing stronger and believes he will be ready when the opera reaches the stage.

“It’s definitely a challenge but we’re up to the challenge because singing is worth it,” he said.