Spotlight on Opera

It ain't over 'til the scientist sings

Christina Leidel and Dan Dworin in a scene from <i>The Mikado</i>
Christina Leidel and Dan Dworin in a scene from The Mikado (Photo courtesy of Bruce McDougall)

Think opera is the sole province of degreed divas and baccalaureate-boasting basses? Then meet Spotlight on Opera, a locally based training program where you may hear arias belted by young professionals but also by a marketing manager, a scientist, a grocery store worker, a lawyer, and a teacher. As program founder and director Cindy Sadler says, "You do not have to be an aspiring opera singer to perform with us – only someone who enjoys singing."

Sadler – a familiar voice and face in Austin Lyric Opera productions and a member of the St. Edward's University music faculty – was asked to start the program by Music Department head Michael McKelvey in 2007. In just four years, Spotlight on Opera has grown from a one-week summer intensive with students learning and performing opera scenes to a year-round program with a season of opera scenes, a full one-act opera, and art song concerts.

Students in this year's Summer Spotlight, which wraps its three-week run this week at Southwestern University in Georgetown with a performance of Pietro Mascagni's durable one-act Cavalleria Rusticana paired with Acts I and II of Mozart's sublime The Marriage of Figaro, have already performed two programs, with each put together in just a week. "We ask a great deal of our singers," says Sadler. "In fact, I would dare to say that my faculty and I insist on a professional level of effort from people who are not necessarily professional singers, and they rise to the occasion. It is tremendously exciting to me to see my 'kids' – some of whom are quite a bit older than me! – grow so much during the course of a week or two and achieve their personal best during a Spotlight performance."

The experience can be a thrill for audiences, too, even with the program's "opera in the raw" production values. "I won't lie; our productions are pretty bare-bones," admits Sadler. "We don't have much in the way of fancy sets or costumes, and we perform with piano. The singers must shine on their own, without all the trappings. But this is exciting to audiences. There's very little between them and the singers, and they like the up close and personal nature of it."

Spotlight on Opera presents The Marriage of Figaro, Acts I and II, and Cavalleria Rusticana Friday, Aug. 13, 7pm, and Sunday, Aug. 15, 6pm, in the Alma Thomas Theater, Southwestern University, Georgetown. A showcase of opera scenes will be presented Saturday, Aug. 14, 7pm, in Southwestern's Jones Theater. For more information, call 246-1914 or visit

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Robert Faires
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Lessons and surprises from a career that shouldn’t have been

Sept. 24, 2021

"Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams" Tells the Story of an Artist
The first-ever museum exhibition of Daniel Johnston's work digs deep into the man, the myths

Sept. 17, 2021


Spotlight on Opera, Cindy Sadler, Michael McKelvey, St. Edward's University, Southwestern University, Austin Lyric Opera

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle