UAB Opera program honored by National Opera Association

Students compete against much larger programs and bring home first place for their performance in “The Burning Fiery Furnace.”

A UAB Opera performance has won first prize in a National Opera Association competition.

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A DVD of the 2010 performance, Benjamin Britten’s “The Burning Fiery Furnace,” was awarded first prize in the 2011 Opera Production Competition, Division I, sponsored by the NOA. The award will be presented to UAB Opera Director Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk, D.M.A., at the NOA’s national convention gala banquet in January 2012 in Memphis, Tenn.

“The honor for UAB is huge,” says Hurst-Wajszczuk. “This is the most important national competition for college programs. Many of the past winners have been major conservatories or opera programs at universities with music programs much larger than UAB’s. We are the little program that could — and did. This honor garners much attention for UAB Opera.”

The production was part of a double bill — two one-act operas — and “Furnace” was the far more difficult of the two, she says. The piece, written in 1963, originally was conceived as a musical drama to be sung in a church performance, Hurst-Wajszczuk says. It recounts a story from the Hebrew Scriptures, Book of Daniel, of the three Israelites who refuse to worship the golden idol and are punished by King Nebuchadnezzar. He throws them into the burning fiery furnace, and through their faith they are protected by an angel of God and are saved. Nebuchadnezzar and his court are converted and sing praises to God.

“It is one of the more difficult works in the canon, and performing it with an all-undergraduate cast was quite daunting at times. The students really stretched, at times far beyond what they thought was possible, to learn this piece. They rose to the challenge, and this award is a testament to their efforts,” says Hurst-Wajszczuk.

“Special thanks to conductor Les Fillmer, UAB rehearsal accompanist Kseniia Polstiankina, UAB Department of Music Associate Chair/Associate Professor Paul Mosteller, D.M.A., and Theatre UAB’s Ed Zuckerman, who designed the show’s lighting and set, including the design concepts for the worship of the golden idol and the fiery furnace. Their work helped make the show truly compelling. I must thank the cast for their hours of grueling rehearsal learning this very difficult piece. I could not be more proud of them,” she says.