Winter Opera St. Louis’ ‘Suor Angelica’ brings Webster alumni and faculty member together

Webster Alumna Journee Carter enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with others during Suor Angelica.

Webster Alumna Kat Rubush graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance in May 2020. For a while, Rubush feared that local opera houses would disappear due to the pandemic.

In January she received an email from Gina Galati, general director of the St. Louis Winter Opera. The email asked if she would be interested in a live opera production. Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” was performed March 19-21 at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

A week or two after the initial email, Rubush was offered a role.

“I was over the moon,” said Rubush. “I called my mother. I called my father. I even called my grandparents and said, “You’ll never guess what – I’ll be in an opera. It’s that time again! COVID didn’t kill the opera. ‘”

For Rubush, the live performance offered a glimmer of hope for the future state of the opera. “Suor Angelica” also allowed Rubush to work again with colleagues, some of whom she knew from Webster.

Journee Carter graduated from Webster University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. She’s practically attending graduate school at the Shenandoah Conservatory now.

Carter said Webster allowed her to try different types of opera performances, including part of “Suor Angelica”. She also said that Webster’s former opera director Alice Nelson helped her learn Italian recitative – a type of operatic delivery that is closer to regular conversation. This helped her with pieces from “Suor Angelica”.

When it came to being on “Suor Angelica” for the St. Louis Winter Opera, Carter said she looked forward to working with others. She said her first college singing teacher was at the opera. Carter was also able to work with Rubush, whom she referred to as one of her “closest friends from Webster.”

“Basically, I’m at this opera with some of my favorite people,” Carter said.

Rubush said she was excited to play “Suor Angelica” in its entirety. The opera performance also gave Rubush an opportunity to learn and develop her skills.

“It’s like crazy singing with professional singers who have been in this business for decades,” said Rubush. “And being able to work with them is like – I’ve learned something new every time.”

One of the actresses Rubush and Carter wanted to work with was Karen Kanakis, who played the title role in “Suor Angelica.” At Webster, Kanakis serves as an additional faculty member for the music department.

Kanakis looked forward to the opportunity to work with Webster alumni. She remembered the excitement of working with professors and professionals as a student. Kanakis added that she also learns from others during opera performances.

“Being an equal colleague with them on stage is a great experience and treating them as equals – because they are – and really each of us can improve our craft at the same level,” said Kanakis. “That is wonderful.”

For Kanakis, continuing the opera performance helps remain credible when working with students at Webster. She said tackling the challenges of the past year helped her become more empathetic towards students.

According to Kanakis, virtual performances helped the performing arts early in the pandemic. However, she learned that virtual performances can present other challenges.

“There’s nothing you can do after you’ve sung live for someone. If there’s a bug it’s out there, ”said Kanakis. “You can’t fix it, but you can keep listening to this recording and then delete it and go back and try to make it better. And so you can safely wipe yourself out. “

Webster Alumna Journee Carter and the additional faculty of music department Karen Kanakis perform together during a dress rehearsal of “Suor Angelica”. Photo by Cas Waigand.

Carter is also working on a remote performance of “Suor Angelica” for the Shenandoah Conservatory. She said there are positives and negatives to performing in person or remotely.

One of the challenges Carter faces with virtual performance is that each one records their parts separately, which can create latency issues. She said wearing masks behind the scenes made it difficult to sing outside of stage rehearsals, but it was beneficial to have a conductor to follow.

“Everyone has been really motivated and really fair, everyone is super talented, and everyone is working very hard to put this together, including everyone behind the scenes,” said Carter.

While Rubush said she was excited to play the opera in person, she said some people reached out to her and asked if the performance could be streamed live. “Suor Angelica” didn’t have a virtual attendance option, but Rubush said livestream appearances could prove beneficial to the opera going forward. She thought it might allow more people to take part.

“I think one of the things that hurts opera and things like that is people think it’s inaccessible,” Rubush said. “I think the pandemic helped us fill that gap a bit.”

The cast did not have to wear masks on stage during the dress rehearsal and the nights of the performance. Kanakis and Rubush said it was a welcome aspect of going back to personal opera to be able to see people’s faces and expressions.

Personally, Rubush felt that the benefits of live opera performances like “Suor Angelica” outweighed the benefits of virtual performances.

“One of my high school acting teachers actually said that acting was responding,” said Rubush. “It reacts to the audience and the people around you, and you can’t do it that virtual.”

“Suor Angelica” is Kanaki’s first performance with the St. Louis Winter Opera in a little over a year. She hopes opera will signal the beginning of a revival for all performing arts.

“To have a local organization that says you know what, we’re going to try that … we’re going to make it as safe as possible. That gives us all a lot of hope that we can do something, ”said Kanakis. “Hopefully we can do something nice and do something that people couldn’t do all year round.”

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I have a degree in journalism and a minor in photography. I reported on COVID-19 and the 2020 general election. I like to write, watch Netflix, crochet and take photos.

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