The program is geared in many ways toward Oberlin voice majors, but anyone interested in things Italian is welcome. The 1997 contingent numbered 33--15 Oberlin students from both the con and college, conservatory faculty members Marlene Ralis Rosen and Michael Rosen, a retired Chicagoan, and students from other colleges and universities. Among them was entering sophomore Morgan Pinney, a visual artist who was delighted to discover the program while going through the course catalogue. "I've always wanted to go to Europe and Italy and this looked like a wonderful opportunity." She planned to study Italian language and culture, as well as drawing and art history.
All participants can choose among courses in Italian literature, the history of Italian opera, and art history. And there is time for applied study in Urbania's art and handicraft traditions--among them Renaissance ceramics, Assisi needlepoint, Italian cooking, design, and book restoration.
Two evenings each week are set aside for film salons, art exhibitions, concerts, and talks with artists and writers. Students can stroll home afterwards, stopping at any one of the many open-air cafes for gelati and conversation. The Cafe al Teatro's linden-tree enclosed patio offers a more contemplative resting spot, while La Taverna, an underground pub that stays open late, attracts the group's night owls.
The ancient cities of Assisi, Sienna, Gubbio, and Ravenna are a short bus trip away, as is Pesaro, home of the Rossini Opera Festival. And they attend major concerts; last year's group saw Das Rheingold at Milan's La Scala, Lucia de Lammermoor in Florence, and La Boheme and Elisir d'Amore in Rome.
Such cultural immersion provides a strong foundation upon which to build a career. "As a stage director, to have seen the country gives me a sense of character, a sense of what Italians are like and the feeling of the places and buildings where the characters might have lived and moved," says Wamsley.
Several other conservatory and program grads have enjoyed recent career coups: Lynette Tapia '95 won the Metropolitan Opera's 1996 national competition, Amy Hansen Simmons '93 won the Met's 1995 district finals, and Janna Baty '90 won the Met's 1994 regional finals. And the confidence Erica Salinas gained from her experiences in last year's program may have contributed to her selection by the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera as one of 12 young singers studying this summer with Enza Ferrari and Gianni Cappaletto in Orderzo, near Venice.
Recalling the scene outside La Scala, Salinas remembers being impressed by the peoples' "passion for music, their appreciation of opera. . . . It was incredibly affirming to see people wanting to hear what I want to do someday.
--Betty Gabrielli is senior staff writer in Oberlin's Office of Communications.