You might think a college voice student would go into a professional opera company's young artist program to refine her vocal technique, sharpen her acting chops and things of that sort. And you would be right. But she can also learn things like how to work on five operas at once.
"A university can't put on four operas in three months," says University of Kentucky graduate student Natalie Krupansky. "It's a learning experience unlike anything else you could do while still enrolled in college."
Krupansky, who is in her final year pursuing a master's degree in vocal performance at UK, is part of this fall's Studio Artist program at Kentucky Opera in Louisville. This week, that program puts her front and center as Ruth, the maid who accidentally raised a boy to be a pirate instead of a pilot, in Pirates of Penzance.
"I've done the same role before and character, mezzo-type roles before," she says, noting her UK Opera Theatre parts as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel and Miss Pooder in Hotel Casablanca last season. "I get stuck in those situations a lot, where the character has to have this sense of uneasiness about themselves at all times.
"In Gilbert and Sullivan, it's a bit different because every character has that uneasiness."
Pirates endures as one of the duo's most popular operettas. The story of a posse of hapless pirates fraught with misunderstandings and romance was taken to Broadway in the 1980s, with Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt leading the way, and it is frequently referenced in pop culture by shows, including The Simpsons and VeggieTales.
It is operetta, a form we haven't seen much of recently in Central Kentucky.
Krupansky describes operetta as "a bridge between musical theater and opera.
"They both come from a healthy vocal production. But the way you veer from opera is you will hear a lot of regional accents in the singing. Some words are delivered in a way other than simply being sung. They will stick out of a line for a reason: They are the punch line of the vocal line."
For those punch lines, Krupansky says, Gilbert and Sullivan "knew what they were doing," because the music directs the orchestra to quiet down so those moments can be played with a comic flair and the singer is not competing with the orchestra to be heard.
"You always have the question in opera, 'Which is more important, the music or the text?'" Krupansky says. "Here, you know, there are times the music is subservient to the words."
Two weeks after Pirates, Krupansky will participate in Kentucky Opera's Baroque opera showcase, Nov. 14 and 15, and two weeks after that, she is in Werther by Jules Massenet, Nov. 28 and 30.
For Werther, she and the other studio artist, University of Louisville student Juliana Moura, are both covering the role of Charlotte. It gives them a chance to study a leading role in the opera. And, as they learned in the season opener, they might just be called on to perform it.
In Otello, Moura covered the leading female role, Desdemona. When the lead mezzo fell ill with a sinus infection during the second performance, Moura had to take over the part.
"Fortunately, she sang beautifully," Krupansky says. "But that let us all know, 'Be prepared.'"
After Werther, Krupansky sings the role of the mother in Kentucky Opera's production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, and then she's preparing to finish her master's and move out into the professional world of opera singing.
"This is a great thing to have on your résumé," Krupansky says of the studio program. "You get a great list of roles, covers, and even just being a chorus member, you learn the opera. So this is invaluable to have on a résumé."