By Josette Keelor
Winchester resident Melissa Chavez might still be in school, but that hasn't stopped her from traveling the world to sing opera.
Performing as Bianca in Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Otello" at this month's Castleton Festival in Rappahannock County, Chavez also will be the understudy to Desdemona. In August she plans to play the title role in Gilbert and Sullivan's "Princess Ida" in Rockville, Md., and audition for more roles -- all this before graduating this fall with a degree in voice performance from Shenandoah Conservatory.
This is her second year performing with the Castleton Festival, which started last weekend. Last year she performed the role of Desdemona through the Riverbend Opera Company in Fairfax.
This year, she said, "It is an opportunity to work on my acting skills."
"Otello is in five parts in the original [William] Shakespeare, and Verdi narrows it down to just four," she said in a recent phone interview from her host home in Flint Hill. The story takes out only the beginning, picking up with Otello arriving in Cyprus.
"Bianca has some lines and a greater presence of character," she said. "Other than that it is fairly faithful to the Shakespeare text."
Chavez, who was born in Morristown, N.J., is a paid soloist in the choir at Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester. At Shenandoah University, she has performed roles in "The Marriage of Figaro," "Street Scene" and "Don Giovanni" at Shenandoah University, which she said prepared her for performing at Castleton.
As part of the festival, Chavez has taken two months of workshop classes in voice, German and acting from teachers like mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and James Morris of the Metropolitan Opera.
"It just puts it on this elite level where you're singing with the best of the industry," Chavez said.
But one of her favorite parts about being at Castleton is the level of community the program fosters by encouraging actors of every level, from principals to chorus members, to spend time together.
"We all eat together in the fire hall," she said. "I think it's been an incredible experience."
Last fall she performed in "La Boheme" in the Middle Eastern country of Oman as a soloist with the U.S. Army Chorus at a performance on Castleton property.
"That was a really amazing opportunity for someone like myself who's just finishing school," she said.
But most exciting, perhaps ,will be next spring's premier of an opera about the Civil War, with Loudoun Lyric Opera in Leesburg. She will premier the role of Libby Norton.
"How cool is it to create a role?"
"My ultimate goal is to be singing opera professionally at the highest level possible. And in 20, 30 years, ... I'd really like to have a successful career in opera. To do what I've been training to do and love to do."
Melissa Chavez will perform at the Castleton Festival in Rappahannock County. The festival which will feature more than 20 performances of opera, theater, music and recitals. The festival runs through July 28, and "Otello" will take the stage at 7 p.m. July 13, 8 p.m. July 19 and 26, and at 2 p.m. July 28. Tickets range in price from $20 to $120. For tickets or more information, call 866-974-0767 or visit www.castletonfestival.org.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org