By Kate Anderson
She was wondering what she could do to continue performing after Augustana, so Associate Music Professor Kathleen Corcoran mentioned the opportunity. Schaffer’s acceptance to the program turned into an incredible summer with FAVA and the Offenbach Opera in Périgueux, France. She performed as the character Suzanne in Un mari à la porte, by J. Offenbach, and in the chorus in L’enfant et les sortilèges by M. Ravel.
The FAVA program is a six week opera training program for aspiring performers. It includes staging instruction, music rehearsals, French language classes, voice lessons, master classes, art song coaching, and of course performances. Roughly 50 students took part in the FAVA program in Périgueux this summer. On top of the operas, students sang in two art song recitals as well as one aria concert. Each student brought at least four art songs to work on, was assigned one aria, and received one art song by French composer Isabelle Aboulker which they later worked through with Aboulker herself!
“The best experience I had is a toss up between the master class with Isabelle Aboulker and working with the orchestra” says Schaffer. “Having the opportunity to coach a song with its living, breathing composer was incredible! She gave insight in to why she composed a line in a certain way – it definitely helped me bring the song to life. Working with an orchestra was also incredible because it was something I have not yet had the opportunity to do. “
There were five performances of the operas, although each person performed their role only once. Schaffer’s performance of Suzanne in Un mari à la porte was on opening night, and while that came with a mixture of nerves and excitement, Schaffer really enjoyed her role. “Suzanne is the kind of character that is fun to play. She is constantly changing her mind and over-reacting in an extremely dramatic way… I found the more committed to the character I became, the better my voice sounded and more engaging the performance was as a whole.”
FAVA had a steep learning curve and was a very full six weeks, but was above all an amazing opportunity for aspiring performers. “It was incredible to be a part of something that each of us was so passionate about and bring our common love for music together in an exciting way,” Schaffer notes.
Schaffer had a week in Europe after the program, and spent the time exploring Paris with her mother. Of course, her journey does not end there. Schaffer hopes to see more appreciation of opera and the arts here in Alberta. “I think it is so important to be aware of all the different types of art that exist for our enjoyment,” she says. “Opera is accessible in Alberta. Now it is just a matter of getting the average person interested enough to explore it and see what it is all about.”
Schaffer says that her time at Augustana prepared her for this opportunity as both a performer and a person. She learned the skills she needed to perform and was encouraged to continue developing them.
“I love the sense of community that I experienced at Augustana,” she begins. “The encouragement I received, and continue to receive, from my peers and professors is unlike any other environment I have been part of. Being at a smaller campus really encouraged me to be my own person, to explore as an artist and discover new ways to deliver the music in a performance that were unique and set me apart. Because of Augustana’s smaller size, the individual attention that I received gave me confidence as I prepared and gave me the support I needed as I embarked into the unknown world of an opera performance. Studying at Augustana allowed me to feel prepared and excited for the challenge.”
Schaffer is currently pursuing an after degree with a focus in drama at the U of A’s North Campus, and will take her Master’s in voice following her two-year after degree. Eventually, Schaffer hopes to pursue a career in musical performance, and encourages students at Augustana who are hoping to do the same to take advantage of every opportunity they come across.
“Audition for the sake of auditioning,” she advises. “Take as many drama and language courses as you can squeeze into your schedule, but most of all keep an open mind. There isn’t one way to make a career in this field, so be open to whatever comes your way.”