Campus News - October 1, 2001

Opera, Russian culture focus of institute supported by NEH grant

Associate Professor Natasha KolchevskaUNM Associate Professor Natasha Kolchevska has won a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to conduct a national institute exploring the music and performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera, Eugene Onegin, and its relation to Russian culture. The premise and outcomes of the institute will help create a national model.

The $122,772 grant will fund an interdisciplinary, four-week institute for 25 high school teachers at UNM in summer 2002, directed by Kolchevska, faculty in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures since 1978.

The teachers will make several trips to the Santa Fe Opera (SFO) to attend performances of Eugene Onegin and take part in backstage seminars led by Andrea Roberts, SFO education director.

The institute, “Opera, Giving Voice to Culture: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin,” will offer “direct and personal contact with opera as a lens for examining Russian society and culture in the 19th century, and its enduring, and at times problematic legacy, into the 20th,” says Kolchevska.

“The back stage seminars are crucial to show teachers how performance can be primary source material,” says Kolchevksa, adding that a tour of the Fechin Institute in Taos is also planned to give participants a look at one of Russia’s premier émigré painters and a turn of the century working studio.

Institute faculty will include scholars from UNM’s programs in Russian Studies and music, including Richard Robbins and Karl Hinterbichler, as well as visiting specialists in art history and music of Tchaikovsky’s era. The teachers selected will bring insights from varied interests and backgrounds.

Each week of the institute will be organized around an interdisciplinary topic such as culture and its many forms. Teachers will focus on two texts that span a fifty-year period from the 1820s to the 1870s – Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse “Eugene Onegin” and Tchaikovsky’s opera with libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky – both a part of Russia’s social fabric.

“Opera cannot only move our hearts and touch our spirits, but also serve as a portal to understanding Russian culture,” Kolchevska says. “As with Verdi, Mozart and Wagner, Tchaikovsky is instantly recognized as the voice of his era and his nation.”
The status of visiting scholar will be extended to each of the teachers who will have full access to UNM libraries and research centers including the Center for Institutional Research and Technology.

The institute web site will feature a digital album and chat room to help bring teachers’ experiences to their students and peers. At the institute’s close, the site will be linked to Opera America, a national advocacy group for opera, and include a compilation of the institute’s content and pedagogy. Examples of classroom implementation, curriculum development and student work will be displayed online. Opera America will also disseminate information about the project through its education programs.

The teachers, who will come from high schools across the nation, will be encouraged to partner with nearby operas and their education departments. They will receive a $2,800 stipend to cover expenses and will be housed in the new UNM student dorms.
Kolchevska, past chair of the UNM Russian Studies Program and a widely published scholar and translator has won numerous grants and awards. In 1996, she participated in an NEH seminar for college teachers on gender in Russian culture and society at Amherst College. Terry Beckmeyer, a high school arts teacher from New Haven, Mo., will serve as associate director for the institute.

K-12 teachers and librarians who instruct or mentor students in the humanities are eligible to apply to the institute. Call 277-7363 for information.

The University of New Mexico
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