About the Project
For many singers throughout the world, their journey as a musician and the process of finding one’s artistic voice starts with 24 Italian Songs & Arias, the classic Schirmer songbook originally published in 1894. Regardless of background or nationality, singers both professional and amateur will be familiar with 24, its austere yellow and green calligraphed cover; its often-handed-down and worn bindings; its penciled-in breath marks, pronunciations, and phrases; and its often-maligned Victorian-era arrangements of Baroque classics.
Featuring classics like “Caro Mio Ben,” “Sebben Crudele,” and “Amarilli, Mia Bella,” 24 Italian Songs & Arias acts as a shared starting point for so many singers’ journeys, and presents us with our project collecting answers to the question: “What is the voice that you found while finding your voice?”
For over a century, hopeful singers have competed with these songs, auditioned with these songs, heard their first applause with these songs, and experienced their first crushing defeat with these songs. For the 24 songs themselves, some have achieved iconic status across the world, recognizable to even the most uninterested of audiences, while some have failed to garner a singular recorded YouTube video. The journey of these songs and their singers are inspiring, challenging, hilarious, heartbreaking, and unpredictable.
How is it possible that one 100-page book starts journeys that go in so many different ways? Some journeys meander in private, some journeys explode with great success, and others take difficult, joyous, regretful, and unpredictable courses.
24 Italian Songs & Arias (& Voices) explores this starting point and the voices that were developed beyond it. En route to collecting 24 versions of the 24 classics, we are interested in hearing about the journeys of their singers. Some will be stories of success, some of failure, and some of the gloriously messy in-betweens.
As we gather our 24 interpretations of 24 Italian Songs & Arias we also invite you to submit your own versions and your own stories, demonstrating this shared starting point and its potential far beyond our expectations. We want to know how the journey of singing engages one’s voice — personal, artistic, and political — and how these voices can come together in new and meaningful ways.
Listen, read, and add your own voice to our collection. You really should let us hear what you’ve got.
Project leaders Naomi Felix, Brian Lobel, Gweneth-Ann Rand, and Allyson Devenish
Photos by Christa Holka
Brian Lobel is a performer, teacher, and curator who is interested in creating work about bodies and how they are watched, policed, poked, prodded, and loved by others. His practice is most efficiently described as former-American-Camp-Counselor-Turned-Performance-Artist, and his work has been shown internationally in a range of contexts from Harvard Medical School, to Sydney Opera House, to the National Theatre (London) and Lagos Theatre Festival, blending provocative humour with insightful reflection. Major projects include BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer, Purge, Hold My Hand and We’re Halfway There, Cruising for Art, BINGE, and 24 Italian Songs & Arias which have been presented in over 25 countries internationally. His book Theatre & Cancer was published by Macmillan in 2019. Brian has received commissions and grants from the Wellcome Trust, Complicite, Jerwood, British Council, and Arts Council England, among others. Brian is a Professor of Theatre & Performance at Rose Bruford College and the co-founder of The Sick of the Fringe. He is also a winner of a very fun 2017 episode of the British television staple Come Dine with Me.
Gweneth Ann Rand trained at the University of Exeter, Goldsmith's College, and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. She was a Vilar Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and has represented England at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. She is currently an Associate Artist at London’s Wigmore Hall.
Her operatic engagements include Aida (English National Opera, Theater Bremen, Oper Kiel, Finnish National Opera, Macedonian Opera, Opera Poznań, Oldenburgisches Staatstheater); Leonora in La forza del destino (Oper Köln, Opera Holland Park); Leonora in Il trovatore (Welsh National Opera); Amelia in Un ballo in maschera (Theater Erfurt); Aida, Santuzza, La Gioconda, La Wally; and critically acclaimed performances of 4.48 Psychosis for the Royal Opera, Prototype Festival and Opéra national du Rhin.
Gweneth Ann is widely known for her acclaimed interpretations of Messiaen’s song cycles Harawi (including Cheltenham Festival, Wigmore Hall and for Opera North) and Poèmes pour Mi (Gürzenich Orchester Köln, Tonhalle Orchester Zürich and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra).
Allyson is a native of Ottawa, Canada. She completed her undergraduate studies at Oberlin College (Ohio), where she received a B.Mus. and B.A., and her postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music.
Allyson is in demand as a musical director, recitalist, and teacher. Her performance schedule has taken her to France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Canada, the US, the Caribbean, and throughout the United Kingdom. She has also recorded for the BBC, CBC, Radio France, and RTE1 (Eire).
As a music director, Allyson has directed the premiere of Looking At The Sun (Battersea Arts Centre) and Kismet (Arcola) and assisted on Porgy and Bess (Lisbon). She has written music for several productions for Tangle International Theatre. As artistic associate and music director with Nitro, she worked on projects such as Mass Carib (Lord Mayor’s Festival, Greenwich Festival, Hackney Empire), An Evening of Soul Food/African Cargo (Greenwich Theatre), and the successful UK tour of Desert Boy. As the creative and directive force behind NitroVoX, she has directed the a cappella group in performances at the Bath Literature Festival (To Kill A Mockingbird) and the London Literature Festival (A Celebration of Maya Angelou), in addition to recording for BBC Radio 4 (The Fisk Jubilee Singers). More recently, Allyson collaborated with Renée Salewski and Trevor A Toussaint on Struggle and Protest – Voices of Change, a new, verbatim piece that looks at regeneration and gentrification in South London.
British contralto Naomi Felix was born in London, but grew up and was educated in Guyana, South America, where she began singing at the early age of 10 in local church and school choirs.
She returned to London to continue her vocal studies at Trinity College of Music, later touring the U.K and Japan with the musical Carmen Jones under the direction of Simon Callow. Her many performances have taken her around the world including the US, Holland, and Italy, where she resided for a year. Other performances include 24 Italian Songs and Arias, The Trojan Women (Hera), and Porgy and Bess in Portugal, and Falstaff (Pegasus Opera).
She continues to have singing lessons with David Jones (N.Y) and Ann De Renais (London) and often can be found singing at weddings and funerals at St Peter’s Italian Church in London.
Tom Wilson is part production manager and part sound designer. He graduated from the Recording Arts degree program at SAE Institute, and accidentally ended up working in theatre after supporting himself through his studies with occasional work in venues across London.
As a production manager, he helps facilitate the work of Brian Lobel, FK Alexander, Martin O’Brien, Daniel Oliver & Frauke Requardt, The Wellcome Collection, Something To Aim For, and The Sick Of The Fringe. His sound design credits include immersive and participatory work with Analogue Theatre Company, RiFT and SPID Theatre, as well as shows with Mercury Theatre Colchester, Theatre 503, Ovalhouse, and RADA.
Tom is a member of the technical team in the Drama Department at Queen Mary University London, as well as an associate teacher in the Technical Theatre department at RADA and a student mentor at ALRA.
The Uncultured (Ashleigh Bowmott + Laura Sweeney), are arts independents working collaboratively to produce, curate, facilitate, and advocate. They put artist and arts worker development at the core of their practice, believing sustainability is in crisis and must be addressed by everyone in the sector. They are champions for better working practices and support others to speak up too.
They work primarily with performance and live artists including Brian Lobel, David Shearing, Lauren John Joseph, Malik Nashad Sharpe, and Xavier de Sousa.
They advocate to develop the sector in more equitable ways through their work on Producing for the End of the World, the OPEN DOORS campaign with East Street Arts, Freelance Taskforce, and pay parity reviews with organizations.
As facilitators, they have most recently worked with Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Rose Bruford College, The Yard Theatre, London Studio Centre, Cambridge Junction, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Theatre Bristol.
Special thanks to:
All of those who have ever held us steady when we’ve stumbled. And, in particular, everyone who’s supported the 24 Italian Songs & Arias journey since 2015, including Silvia Mercuriali, Mamoru Iriguchi, Froud, Lehni Lamide Davies, The Yard Theatre (London), Certain Blacks and Clive Lyttle, Latitude Festival and Tania Harrison, Tom Parkinson, Alice Morgan, Patrick Eakin Young, Season Butler, Deborah Pearson, George Reynolds, and the original star of 24 Italian Songs & Arias: Karen Lobel.
University Musical Society (UMS) at the University of Michigan
A recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts, UMS contributes to a vibrant cultural community by connecting audiences with performing artists from around the world in uncommon and engaging experiences. One of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country, UMS is an independent non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Michigan, presenting over 70 music, theater, and dance performances by professional touring artists each season, along with over 100 free educational activities. UMS is committed to bold artistic leadership, engaged learning through the arts, and access and inclusiveness. Since 1990, the organization has co-commissioned and supported the production of nearly 80 new or reimagined works. Matthew VanBesien became the organization’s seventh president in July 2017.
UMS project team: Jeff Beyersdorf, Sara Billmann, Alex Gay, Jake Gibson, Cayenne Harris, Michael Kondziolka, Terri Park, Mary Roeder, Eric Woodhams
Maurice and Linda Binkow
Julia Darlow and John O’Meara
Anne and Paul Glendon
Norman and Debbie Herbert
Stephen and Rosamund Forrest
Beverley and Gerson Geltner
Susan and Richard Gutow
James and Nancy Stanley
Funded in part by:
UMS Sustaining Directors
This Digital Arts Adventure is made possible by the University of Michigan Credit Union