Resident puts on performances
The faint sound of a piano medley makes its way down through the halls of an apartment building off New Broad Street. The more steps you take toward Theresa Smith’s loft apartment, the more the music begins to swell.
Inside, there’s a man at a music stand belting out an Italian ballad, while Smith sits playing a piano and coaching him along.
He reaches the end of “Caro Mio Ben,” breathing deeply to finish the operatic love song with a flourish. He hits the last note, dropping it within two beats.
“Wait!” Smith interjects. “It’s the last note of the whole thing, just hold it. … This is one of your hold-the-audience-in-the-palm-of-your-hand moments. Take it!”
She demonstrates in perfect vibrato, using her hands to demonstrate when the cut off should be. He tries again, taking his time with the last release.
“Yes!” she says. “Like that; now let’s try it again.”
Mark, the man behind the stand, is Smith’s third vocal lesson of the day, and one of the 35 students she teaches out of her second-floor Baldwin Park loft. Smith, a Winter Park native, started singing before she ever started school, putting on living room productions for her cousins. Her voice carried her through Winter Park High School, where she was first introduced to opera. Then it was off to the University of Central Florida where she majored in music education and then completed her master’s in vocal performance at the University of Miami.
In recent years, Smith has performed with the likes of the Orlando Opera Company and the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival and founded her own non-profit organization, Central Florida Vocal Arts. This holiday season she’s taken her directing talents from where they began in her parents’ living room to churches throughout Central Florida, presenting her own production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a one-act opera first performed on NBC Opera Theater as a Christmas special in 1951.
The production, she says, will be a good introduction to opera for people not familiar with the genre or who have preconceived notions of what it is.
“There’s a misconception of what opera is and it’s just not accurate … you have to start introducing people in an approachable setting, and this is a way to do it,” she said. “We’ll reach more people, and that’s my goal.”
She says many people view opera as snobby or only for an older, highbrow crowd, when really it was meant to be an art form for all people. She compares the medium to musical soap operas, complete with sex, drama and death.
“Saying you don’t like opera is like saying you don’t like books,” she says. “There’s so many different subsets.”
In “Amahl,” Smith plays the mother to one of her 12-year-old voice students. She’s cast other local talents from Rollins College and local theaters to fill in the rest. Smith says she loves the opportunity to be able to help direct and train up-and-coming singers in the area, just as others did for her throughout her schooling.
“It’s exciting to see it come full circle and me being the teacher now,” she said.
In her lesson with Mark, a doctor who takes singing lessons just for fun, Smith encourages him to play up his dynamics and leave space between the appropriate notes to add drama.
He sings it through one last time, and as he holds the last note for his one-woman audience, a smile spreads across Smith’s face as she gives Mark a high five. He defers all compliments to his teacher.
“It’s because Theresa is awesome,” he says.