Webster alumna Journee Carter was excited for the opportunity to collaborate with others during “Suor Angelica.”
Webster Alumna Kat Rubush graduated with a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance in May of 2020. For a time, Rubush was worried local opera venues would disappear due to the pandemic.
Then, she received an email from Winter Opera St. Louis General Director Gina Galati in January. The email asked if she would be interested in taking part in a live opera production. The performance of Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” ran from March 19 to March 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,” Rubush said. “I called my mom. I called my dad. I even called my grandparents and I was like, ‘You’ll never guess what – I’m going to be in an opera. It’s back on! COVID didn’t kill opera.’”
For Rubush, the live performance offered a glimmer of hope for the state of opera moving forward. “Suor Angelica” also allowed Rubush to work alongside peers, some of whom she knew from Webster, once more.
Journee Carter graduated from Webster University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. She is now virtually attending graduate school at Shenandoah Conservatory.
Carter said Webster allowed her to try different kinds of opera performances, including part of “Suor Angelica.” She also said Webster’s previous opera director, Alice Nelson, helped her learn Italian recitative – a style of opera delivery which is closer to regular conversation. This helped her for pieces of “Suor Angelica.”
When it came to being in Winter Opera St. Louis’ “Suor Angelica,” Carter said she looked forward to being able to work and collaborate with others. She said her first collegiate voice teacher was in the opera. Carter was also able to work alongside Rubush, who she described as one of her “closest friends from Webster.”
“Basically, I’m in this opera with some of my favorite people,” Carter said.
Rubush said she was excited to be able to perform “Suor Angelica” in its entirety. The opera performance also offered Rubush a continued opportunity to learn and develop her skills.
“Singing it with professional singers that have been in this business for decades is like insane,” Rubush said. “And being able to work with them is like – I learned something new every time.”
One of the cast members Rubush and Carter looked forward to working with was Karen Kanakis, who played the titular role in “Suor Angelica.” At Webster, Kanakis serves as an adjunct faculty member for the music department.
Kanakis looked forward to the opportunity to work alongside Webster Alumni. She remembered the excitement of getting to work with professors and professionals when she was a student. Kanakis added she is also learning from others during opera performances.
“To be an equal colleague with them on stage is a great experience and to treat them as equals – because they are – and really all of us can sort of hone our craft together on the same level,” Kanakis said. “That is wonderful.”
For Kanakis, continuing to perform opera helps her stay credible when working with students at Webster. She said navigating the challenges of the past year has helped her become more empathetic toward students.
Virtual performances helped the performing arts at the beginning of the pandemic, according to Kanakis. However, she learned virtual performances can pose other challenges.
“There’s nothing you can do once you’ve sung live for somebody. If there’s a mistake, it’s out there,” Kanakis said. “You can’t fix it, but you can keep listening to that recording and then deleting it and going back and trying to make it better. And you can certainly wipe yourself out that way.”
Carter is also working on a remote performance of “Suor Angelica” for Shenandoah Conservatory. She said there are positives and negatives for performing in-person or remotely.
One challenge Carter faced with the virtual performance is that everyone records their parts separately, which can cause latency problems. She said wearing masks while backstage made singing more difficult during off-stage rehearsals, but having a conductor to follow was beneficial.
“Everyone has been really motivated and really just, everyone is super talented and everyone’s working very hard to put this together, including everyone behind the scenes,” Carter said.
While Rubush said she was excited to perform opera in person, she said some people reached out to her and asked if the performance could be livestreamed. “Suor Angelica” did not have a virtual attendance option, but Rubush said livestream performances could prove to be beneficial to opera in the future. She thought it could enable more people to attend.
“I think one of the things that does hurt opera and stuff like that is that people think it’s inaccessible,” Rubush said. “I think the pandemic has helped us bridge that gap just a little bit.”
The cast did not have to wear masks while on stage during dress rehearsals and the nights of the performance. Kanakis and Rubush said being able to see people’s faces and expressions was a welcome aspect of returning to in-person opera.
Personally, Rubush felt the benefit of live opera performances like “Suor Angelica” outweighed the benefits of virtual performances.
“One of my high school acting coaches actually said that acting is reacting,” Rubush said. “It’s reacting to the audience and people around you, and so virtually, you can’t do that.”
“Suor Angelica” is Kanakis’ first performance with Winter Opera St. Louis in just over a year. She hopes the opera signals the start of a revival for all of the performing arts.
“To have a local organization that says, you know what, we’re going to try this … We’re going to do it as safely as possible. That gives all of us a lot of hope that we can have some work,” Kanakis said. “We can hopefully make something beautiful and do something that people haven’t been able to do all year.”