By: Caroline Newman | University Communications
University of Virginia music major and aspiring opera singer Wesley Diener fell in love with opera in high school, as he studied a book of Italian art songs that his voice teacher gave him.
Diener, a third-year student from Northern Virginia, was no stranger to musical performance. His grandparents met as members of the Michigan State University marching band and his mother attended a music conservatory as a flutist before pursuing her MBA. Diener himself had played violin since he was 8 and was a regular participant in musical theater programs around his hometown in Vienna. His favorite role to date remains the Cowardly Lion in a community theater production of “The Wizard of Oz,” performed at George Mason University’s Hylton Performing Arts Center.
In opera, his roles tend to be slightly more sinister, because villainous parts are often composed with baritone or bass voices in mind. Diener, a baritone, is currently rehearsing an aria from the Italian opera, “Don Pasquale.” He plays the scheming Dr. Malatesta, who cons the elderly bachelor Don Pasquale into a sham marriage in order to force the wealthy old man to allow his nephew and heir, Ernesto, to marry Malatesta’s sister.
Diener, with voice instructor Pamela Beasley and accompanist John Mayhood, offered a glimpse of his rehearsal during a Facebook Live video on Monday, as he performed the “Bella siccome un angelo (Beautiful like an angel)” aria from the Italian opera “Don Pasquale.” He also performed “Auf einer Burg” and “Im Walde” from “Liederkreis, Op. 39,” a song cycle composed by German composer Robert Schumann.
Diener considered attending a conservatory program like his mother, but wanted a more versatile education. He chose UVA after meeting with Beasley, and learning more about the McIntire Department of Music. Now, he is majoring in music with a music performance concentration, which requires him to perform arias like the one above in front of a faculty evaluation panel. Next weekend, he will use the same aria in an audition for a two-month summer opera festival in New York City.
Last summer was also devoted to opera. Diener attended an intensive two-month training program at the Franco American Vocal Academy in Périgord, France after receiving grants from UVA’s Miller Arts Scholars program and the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. Along with 44 other singers from around the world, he received voice lessons and coaching, put on a concert and operetta and took a lead role in the school’s production of the famed French opera, “Mireille.”
“I spent about two months learning the parts by myself before going to France, and then we practiced every day,” said Diener, who also takes French classes at UVA. “I spent a lot of time just making sure it was all in my range, healthily, before adding interpretations.”
At UVA, he tries to fit in at least 1½ or 2 hours of voice practice every day, often staying in rehearsal rooms in Old Cabell Hall until closing time. Beasley has worked with Diener since his first year, and provides one-on-one coaching during weekly rehearsals.