WILLIAMSTOWN -- Call it a college reunion with music instead of speeches. Three recent Williams College alums will return Saturday night to join in a recital of classical songs.
The program will also demonstrate how a love of opera and classical music nurtured at Williams has put the graduates on a career track.
Two singers and a pianist will take part.
"This is my first year released in the wild," says baritone Paul LaRosa ‘02, one of the singers.
That is, he has completed his postgraduate training and apprenticeship in opera, and is now out there looking for and getting professional engagements. He'll be joined by mezzo-soprano Vivien Shotwell ‘03, who is pursuing graduate studies in opera at Yale. She plans a dual career as singer and novelist.
Melancholy song pervades the program, which takes place at 8 in the college's Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall.
Shotwell will sing Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, five songs based on poems by Friedrich Rückert. LaRosa will do Vaughan Williams' "Songs of Travel," a cycle of nine songs to poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. They'll also twine voices in a duet by Brahms.
The evening's pianist is another alumnus, Noah Lindquist ‘08, now a graduate student at Mannes College in New York and a faculty member at the Berkshire Choral Festival in Sheffield. LaRosa and Shotwell have returned to Williams before to participate in workshop productions of operas, but this will be their first
Neither singer had a heart set on a classical-operatic career until arrival at Williams. There, both came under the sway of voice teacher Keith Kibler.
LaRosa was actually an English and philosophy major. Shotwell also majored in English but paired it with a music major.
"I loved listening to and attending operas when I was 7 and 8 years old," Shotwell said by email, "and I acted in stage plays throughout my childhood and teenage years, as well as studying the violin and viola I love singing and acting and have gotten enough support and encouragement to make the pursuit of a career possible."
Music for LaRosa was "another interest among many," including soccer, in high school. As Kibler introduced him to more and more opera and song repertoire, he said in a phone interview, he became more and more interested.
Kibler recalls him asking, in his sophomore or junior year, "Do you think I can do this?" Kibler replied, "Yes, I'm very certain that you can do this."
On graduation, LaRosa still wasn't pointing toward a musical career. But a few opera roles here and there -- "just something I was doing for fun at that point" -- landed him at the Juilliard School for graduate training. It wasn't, he recalls, until the third or fourth of his six Juilliard years that he decided to get serious about the work.
"I'll go for a master's and see what happens," he thought. What happened was two years in the Lyric Opera of Chicago's young artist program, and the launch of a career.
His Chicago roles included Papageno in Mozart's "Magic Flute," Hermann in Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann" and Nikitich in Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov." Engagements during the current season include Jack Rance in Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West" under Lorin Maazel at Maazel's Castleton Festival for young musicians, and a Cleveland Orchestra debut in Copland's "Old American Songs," led by David Alan Miller in Cleveland and Miami.
Shotwell, meanwhile, has completed her first novel, "Vienna Nocturne," based on the collaboration -- some say romance -- between Mozart and the English soprano Nancy Storace. The book will be published next year by Ballantine.
"I'm hoping to continue as both a singer and a novelist, if possible," the mezzo said. "Both careers involve a certain amount of time off, and offer respites from each other, although sometimes they both demand attention simultaneously, which can be challenging."
Shotwell was born in Boulder, Colo., but calls Halifax, Nova Scotia, her hometown. LaRosa, a newlywed, lives in Summit, N.J., where he also grew up.
Though a liberal arts college, Williams offers students many opportunities for musical performance in a variety of genres. Only a few, however, go onto a career track.
Kibler has brought both soloists back at Williams twice to take part in his New Opera workshop productions with young singers. Shotwell appeared as Purcell's Dido, LaRosa as Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Both singers, according to Kibler, have powerful voices. He describes Shotwell as "a very striking woman" with "tremendous presence." LaRosa, he says, is "a very suave young man" with "fiery" energy onstage.
Pianist Lindquist gained experience as an accompanist while playing for singers in Kibler's lessons. Kibler describes him as "a virtuoso pianist" with a knack for working with singers.
Besides providing a concert experience, Kibler says, Saturday's program "shows the undergraduates that I have right now, a) what can happen if you work hard -- and you have the goods to begin with, of course -- and b) you know that the school invests in them and we don't forget about them as soon as they leave."
"And," he says of his current crop, "we've got some real good ones right now."