“I had never been to an opera and didn’t know what opera was,” remembered Eve Gigliotti ’93.
The American mezzo-soprano has won critical acclaim for performances with Gotham Chamber Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and The Metropolitan Opera, but as a new George School student, she had no idea where her education would take her.
“I have a vivid memory of walking into Michael Sherrin’s office and sitting on the floor while he played piano,” Eve recalled. “He would play a note and I had to match it with my voice. He went higher and challenged me to match the note, and I did. He looked at me and told me I had the gift of a classical, operatic voice. Michael was the first person who inspired me to become an opera singer.”
Michael, who ran the music department at the time, gifted Eve an Italian ceramic vase her senior year. “It had the most delicate ceramic flowers in it,” she said. “He gave it to me and said, ‘so you’ll always have flowers for your performances.’ I still cherish that gift. Unfortunately, Michael was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away shortly after I graduated. He didn’t get to see what happened in my life but was hugely influential in showing me a path I never would have seen on my own.”
Eve, who holds degrees from The Manhattan School of Music, Mannes The New School for Music, and The Curtis Institute of Music, said it took some time to find her place in the operatic world.
“Opera tends to have an unattainable vibe to it, and is skewed away from young people,” she said. As a result, she is driven to tell the story of opera and help the public understand how accessible opera can be.
“Sitting in a space like the Kimmel Center and listening to live music without amplification is magical; it is a sacred and original experience that elevates the human condition. It cannot be reproduced. This kind of experience should be available to everyone,” she said.
Eve finds the most joy as an artist in new American opera, which seeks to engage contemporary audiences with new and innovative operatic works. Her newest project, a collaboration with playwright and fellow George School alumnus Winter Miller ’91, aims to do just that.
No One is Forgotten is an original play and opera written by Winter, which premiered at the Rattlestick in New York City in the summer of 2019.
“Winter is an incredible playwright who has worked as a journalist before and was moved to write the play in response to the erosion of journalist protections around the world,” explained Eve. As soon as she saw the play, she immediately wanted it to be an opera.
No One is Forgotten is the story of two people, a journalist and aid worker, who are held in captivity, and how they lean on each other to survive a harrowing experience. It’s a love story and a story of endurance and the human spirit.
Eve talked to a few people but put the idea on hold until the pandemic hit. Suddenly, everyone had a new experience with what it meant to be captive. When all performance events were canceled, Eve was urged to respond by finding new ways to share her art with an audience. Many other artists were using Zoom and recording shows. Eve wanted to do something different and thought it would be interesting to set some of the play to music and stream it to a virtual audience.
“I contacted Paola Prestini, a wonderful composer with whom I had collaborated in the past, and asked if she would be interested in working on this with Winter and I. Paola suggested a radio play with Foley [the reproduction of everyday sound effects added in post-production].”
“The group thought ‘What if we created a theater piece that was an opera in the imagination?’” explained Eve. “We took the play, mashed it up with actors and opera singers, added Foley, and came up with a radio play meets opera hybrid. It is designed to be listened to; it’s not a recording of a show or an opera.”
The experience is designed to be listened to in immersive audio. Using Dolby Atmos, the broadest reach of sound technology, created a beautifully immersive, operatic storytelling experience.
“I love how this project is innovative without compromising the art form,” said Eve. “It is a great introduction to the classical art form that is opera that I’m hoping develops an appetite for modern opera.”
Eve had known Winter at George School, and always admired her. “Winter is brilliant, and this project never would have happened if we had not shared the George School experience together. There is also a social awareness and consciousness to the piece, and the social responsibility I felt when designing this project came from what I learned at George School—understanding that you are a part of a global community and that you have a responsibility as an artist to share those stories.”
No One is Forgotten premieres this month. Read more about the immersive opera here.