When Department of Music professor Ellen Rosand recently received a letter-sized package over Express Mail, she had no idea it would contain a $1.5 million Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — an award for which she did not know she had been nominated.
Professor Rosand, a scholar of 17th-century music, said she will use the grant to start an undergraduate Baroque opera group and to host three conferences in Whitney Humanities Center over the next three years. Rosand’s goal is to make music and performance at Yale more intertwined, she said.
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“I plan to bridge entities of music here,” she said. “Synergies among entities would be desirable.”
The Baroque opera group will use Rosand’s funding to produce one major on-campus production each year. Claudia Rosenthal ’08, managing director of the Opera Theatre of Yale College, said she believes the OTYC will be able to work with the Baroque group to enhance opera at Yale.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to discuss ways that professor Rosand can work together with the OTYC,” Rosenthal said. “I look forward to the focus that professor Rosand will bring to this genre in the upcoming years.”
Rosand said the planned conferences at the Whitney Humanities center are intended to explore topics related to the Baroque Period, an era during the 17th and early 18th centuries characterized by a complex and ornate style of music, art and architecture. The conferences will focus on Baroque dance, staging and poetry. Rosand said she also hopes to bring famous coaches and professionals to campus to provide more Baroque instruction.
Professor Richard Lalli, who is working on the project with Rosand, said they expect to expand the reach of the grant by working with other University groups.
“Already there are plans to combine graduate student singers from the School of Music — those who also sing with Schola Cantorum — with undergraduate singers,” Lalli said. “The instrumental component will also mix the two, and talks are underway with the Theater Studies Department where another Mellon recipient, Joseph Roach, teaches.”
Robert Mealy, a lecturer for the Institute for Sacred Music, said he is excited to work on the project in order to make Baroque music more of a force in the lives of students.
“This is music that dances, that sings, that makes you laugh and cry; it’s music that the students won’t ever forget once they’ve lived with it for a while,” Mealy said in an e-mail. “Having the opportunity to introduce students to some of the music I feel most deeply about is a great joy.”
Rosand said the biggest challenge she faces in planning the program is finding a place to perform the shows.
“The problem is facilities — we really need to get Yale a small theater,” she said. “We need a donor of Yale to step up to the plate. We don’t have a theater, but we have the talent and the motivated faculty.”
Lalli said the shortage of performance venues will likely lead to the use of unconventional locations for the proposed Baroque operas.
“I think the lack of space will force us to be even more creative,” Lalli said. “There might be operas in gymnasiums or abandoned factories.”
Rosand became a member of the Yale faculty in 1992 and chaired the Department of Music from 1993-’98. She has also co-taught Italian and comparative literature classes.
Rosand said she hopes the University will find a way to fund the program after the three years covered by the grant come to an end.
“My plan is to make it so gorgeous and excellent that Yale can’t afford to lose it,” she said. “There could be a legacy to this — someone might come forth to do this on a higher level.”
The Andrew W. Mellon foundation has given Distinguished Achievement Awards to support the humanities since 2001.