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FESTIVAL TUNED TO OPERA

Students from around the world voice the lessons learned during intensive study.

If you took a stroll through the fine arts building at Nature Coast Technical High School the past couple of weeks, you might have had to think about where you were.

From the band room, where the norm is marching band music, comes the beefy strains of L'onore! Ladri!, the powerful aria from Verdi's Falstaff. Down the hall, Mozart's classic work, The Magic Flute, comes to life as a chorus of voices fills the corridor like a performance hall.

It's all a bit strange when you consider that this is all happening in a place just a stone's throw from a cow pasture. However, the arrival of the Intermezzo Young Artist Program in early July has granted Hernando County temporary notoriety, serving as the summer home to some of the greatest mavens of professional opera.

More than 170 voice students from all over the globe have been taking part in an intensive opera boot camp that will culminate next week with an 11-performance opera festival at the school's Black Box Theater.

For Gabrielle Mirabella, the program has been an opportunity of a lifetime. The Pasco County 19-year-old, who is in her second year at the Manhattan School of Music, has endeavored to soak in every moment of the five-week experience.

"For a voice student, it's about as good as it gets," Mirabella said. "There are things I've learned here that I probably couldn't have gotten anywhere else."

Mirabella is one of two local singers in the program. Her longtime friend, Alison Caffrey, 21, a senior at the Manhattan School of Music, also attended the Intermezzo program last summer in South Florida. As a veteran, Caffrey says the toughest part of the program is getting used to nine- to 10-hour days of nearly nonstop lessons and rehearsals.

"It can get been pretty intense," said Caffrey, who landed a role in The Magic Flute. "There is so much to do and only so much time. The good thing is that people here are highly motivated to do whatever it takes to make a good performance."

Now in its sixth year, the Intermezzo summer opera program is geared toward guiding students with specific interests in the professional music field. Students who pass the rigorous auditions are placed under the direction of noted opera professionals from such venues as the New York Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera and the Chicago Opera Theater.

In addition to Falstaff and The Magic Flute, the festival will also stage lesser known 20th century operas - Albert Herring by Britten and Suor Angelica by Puccini. Although the operas will be sung in their original languages, the majority of the dialogue will be presented in English. All will feature a piano arrangement of the score.

According to Nature Coast Tech drama teacher Lori Erickson, who along with her husband, Tim, has helped coordinate the staging of the productions, presenting four operas in one facility created a number of challenges, not the least of which was how to create a basic stage setting that could be quickly adapted with minimal disruptions between performances.

"They probably won't look much like traditional opera sets to most people," Erickson said. "The important thing is that the music will be spectacular."

To that end, tenor Vigthor Zophoniasson is looking to do his part. A native of Hallormsstadur, Iceland, the New England Conservatory of Music student has spent much of the past few weeks trying to perfect his role as the handsome Prince Tamino in The Magic Flute.

A resident of Colorado, Zophoniasso has found the summer Florida heat a bit tough to get used to. Nevertheless, he concedes the humidity makes his voice sound better.

"It helps to stretch the vocal cords," Zophoniasso said. "But it doesn't do much to make you very comfortable."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

IF YOU GO

A gala of sound

Intermezzo Opera Festival of New York will present four full operas at the Black Box Theatre on the Nature Coast Technical High School campus, 4057 California St., between Powell Road and Spring Hill Drive, south of Brooksville. The schedule is as follows: Falstaff (7:30 p.m. July 28 and 31 and 3 p.m. Aug. 3); The Magic Flute (3 p.m. July 29 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 and 3); Albert Herring (7:30 p.m. July 27, 29 and Aug. 2); and Suor Angelica (3 p.m. July 28 and 7:30 p.m. July 30). Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. The box office in the lobby of the theater will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays through July 26, and one hour before each performance. Discounted multiple-show packages are available. Call 797-7088, ext. 296, or (727) 534-5742 for reservations and information.

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