The University of Alabama Opera Theatre began rehearsing in its new performing arts center Monday, February 24.
“I have been begging the university for an appropriate space since I came here seven years ago,” said program director Dr. Paul Houghtaling.
Houghtaling said Chancellor Robert Witt, President Judy Bonner and Dean of Arts and Sciences Dean of Arts and Sciences Robert F. Olin have been very supportive in finding a sufficient facility for the opera program, but until now it had only recently become a possibility.
“All good things take time,” he said. “This just took some time for the right space to appear.”
The new space, a renovated chapel called Bryant-Jordan Hall, appeared on the university’s recently purchased grounds at the old Bryce Hospital. The chapel is named after Paul Bryant and Ralph Jordan, former Auburn Coach.
Houghtaling said the two coaches were friendly off the field and teamed up to raise money to build this chapel in the 1960s.
“We enjoy that little connection to the football legacy,” he said.
Opera Theatre students had been training, conducting workshops, and performing in a large, linoleum-floored classroom. They had to rent lighting for performances, and students used the back hallway as a makeshift dressing room.
Houghtaling said this tremendous improvement will enhance the program in every way. The structure is equipped with built-in lighting, dressing rooms and a recording studio.
He said the new performing arts center will help them recruit and grow the program, therefore benefitting the university as well as the large number of Opera-lovers in the Tuscaloosa community.
“More young artists are discovering Alabama as a place to grow their craft, and this will help us continue that mission,” he said.
The Opera Theatre program is career-oriented. In addition to teaching singing, acting, stage combat and improvisation, the students practice “the art of auditioning” so they can land careers in the industry after they graduate.
“It’s an honor to work with them at the very beginnings of their careers,” Houghtaling said. “I instill in them that the career doesn’t begin after graduation, it begins on their very first day of school here.”
Nicole Pietrangelo is a senior studying vocal performance and has participated in Opera Theater with Houghtaling since her sophomore year.
“He’s one of the most energetic people I’ve ever met,” she said.
Pietrangelo said that the new facility is a huge change, and that she and the other students are looking forward to working in this new space.
“Everyone was blown away the first time we heard how our voices sounded,” she said. “The acoustics make everyone’s voices so much bigger than they were in the other room.”