Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Magic' return for PLU alum

 Amy Van Mechelen takes stage as opera queen 

By Kelsey Mejlaender, Copy Editor

When she’s not wearing dramatic stage makeup, Amy Van Mechelen looks like any other person on campus.
    But during “The Magic Flute” opera’s mid-November run, she stood out as she transformed into the   Queen of the Night.

    Van Mechelen graduated in 2008, but returned to Pacific Lutheran University to perform in the opera when the production needed another person. She also still takes voice lessons from Janeanne Houston, a senior lecturer for PLU’s music department.
    Van Mechelen said all of the main roles are double cast for these types of performances. Jim Brown, head of the voice department, said this not only gives more PLU singers a chance to perform, but also ensures there’s a person to take over should a performer become ill.
    For “The Magic Flute,” Junior Emily McFaul had been cast as one of the Queens of the Night, but a second had not been found. That is when Houston recommended Van Mechelen.
    “My teacher [Houston] is wonderful, and always advocates for me and is a huge support,” Van Mechelen said. She auditioned and said she was “very grateful” she earned the part.
    Van Mechelen described working with PLU students as “wonderful,” and said the students were “very committed” and put all of their effort into the opera. It “was really neat,” Van Mechelen said, “to see people just as passionate as myself and getting to work with them and getting to know them.”
    Van Mechelen participated in PLU performances while working on her BA in vocal performance. As a sophomore, she was in the chorus for the musical “Street Scene” by Kurt Weill and as a senior she was the stage manager for the opera “L’Orfeo” by Claudio Monteverdi.
    “I got to do behind the scenes and everything [as stage manager],” Van Mechelen said.
    A PLU transfer student, Van Mechelen said she recalled her challenging 20th century music history class taught by Professor Greg Bowers — who no longer teaches at PLU — as her favorite. She continued, “you kind of are upset that you have a really tough teacher, but then you end up learning a lot.”
    Van Mechelen said a wide variety of classes are necessary because music students need to “garner experience in other things besides just singing and performing.” She said PLU gives students “a really great foundation of theory and history and…that can-do attitude.”
    After PLU, Van Mechelen earned her Masters degree in music from Colorado State University. She went on to perform with the Seattle Opera, earning a place in the chorus of the 2011 “Porgy and Bess” production, an opera about a disabled black beggar who struggles to help a woman in early 20th century South Carolina.
    Van Mechelen said “Porgy and Bess” provided a lot of opportunities. “Any time you get to work professionally around other singers and other directors and stage managers,” Van Mechelen said, “it ups your game and ups your professionalism.”
    Comparing professional productions to PLU, Van Mechelen said the two were “very different” and the former had more defined roles.
    At PLU, Van Mechelen said, when working on props, sets and costumes “everyone comes together and it’s a community thing” while in the Seattle Opera Company, people only complete the tasks assigned them. “It’s not to say there isn’t community,” Van Mechelen said. “It’s just different. Everyone knows their job and they know how to do it.”
    Van Mechelen said she will  continue studying voice with Janeanne Houston and plans to audtion for young artist programs, professional diploma programs and summer programs to continue growing as a performer.