June 12, 2024

Titusville Native Takes Starring Role in Princeton Festival’s “Cosi fan Tutte”

By Anne Levin

Alexis Peart
(photo by Stephen Laschever)

When Mozart’s comic opera Cosi fan tutte is staged by the Princeton Festival this coming weekend, there is likely to be a substantial cheering section for the mezzo soprano taking the role of Dorabella.

She is Alexis Peart, and her artistic roots in the local area run deep. In fact, the accomplished 26-year-old opera singer cites her first operatic experience as a member of the children’s chorus at the Princeton Festival — in Carmen one year, and La Boheme the next.

Peart grew up in Titusville, in the house where her mother still lives. She studied voice, cello, flute, and violin at Westminster Conservatory of Music. She took classes at Princeton Ballet School. Her family attended Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.

“Coming back here to perform is a very ‘kismet’ journey, and I’m so excited about it,” Peart said during a telephone interview last week. “With all that I have been doing, I haven’t been able to perform in proximity to where I grew up. I understand that a huge group from the church are coming. And of course, my mom is coming to all three shows.”

Peart is based in Boston, where she sings with the Boston Lyric Opera and was a Boston District Winner last year in the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition. She has sung with Chautauqua Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Guerilla Opera, Chicago Summer Opera, and Eastman Opera Theater (she is a graduate of Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and Boston University).

But Peart’s activities are not limited to singing. She is the executive director of the Boston Opera Collaborative, a teaching artist and curriculum writer with the Boston arts institution Castle of Our Skins, and an associate creative producer for Beth Morrison Projects, an opera company based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I do a lot of stuff in addition to singing,” she said. “Performing and arts administration really go hand in hand. I feel like being a singer gives me a broader understanding of what happens behind the scenes and backstage. It just makes me a better performer. And as a person of color, it’s about how we can create more inclusive theater spaces, both for artists in the room and for audiences. How do we make opera more accessible? How can we get people excited about it? It’s another form of storytelling, so I talk a lot about my experience.”

Peart’s focus on opera developed after she sang in the children’s chorus at Westminster and the Princeton Festival. “I had done the honors program on the weekends at Westminster — I was there all the time,” she said. “And at the Princeton Festival, I was paired with adult choristers. I remember thinking it was so cool that these people were singing opera — unamplified sound — and we got to be under them. So it just kind of blossomed. I just really loved it. I worked with incredible people who really set me up for going into this.”

Peart started winning competitions. At Hopewell Valley Central High School, she was involved in choral and theater endeavors.

“I ended up going to Eastman [School of Music], where I did a lot of singing, ushered, and was really taken care of,” she said. “The pandemic put a big pause on everything, and I had to adapt to making music in this socially distanced world. I did my graduate school auditions from my apartment in Rochester.”

Peart’s career began to flourish in Boston, where her voice “came into its own,” she said. Making her way back to New Jersey happened via the Chatauqua Institution in upstate New York, where Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) conductor Rossen Milanov leads the Chatauqua Symphony Orchestra (the PSO runs the Princeton Festival).

“He looked at my resume and said, ‘You have a New Jersey area code,’ she said. “And it kind of went from there. I auditioned, and here we are.”

The role of Dorabella in Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte is an exciting challenge for Peart, who also performs modern music. “I like getting to create things that haven’t been done before,” she said. “And there is so much variety in contemporary opera. But I love doing the Mozart operas, and this is my first Dorabella.”

The production is described as a contemporary take on the 1790 opera, setting it in a pastel-colored villa above Italy’s glamorous Amalfi coast. The opera is sung in Italian with English titles.

“I just love performance and sharing. I love the rehearsal process, seeing how everyone works together,” Peart said. “Even with a standard like Mozart, our director James Marvel gives it a unique spin that makes our production really special. And that’s the joy of it — this continued sense of discovery.”

Cosi fan tutte is on stage at the Princeton Festival in the performance tent at Morven, 55 Stockton Street, on Friday, June 14 at 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 16 at 4 p.m.; and Tuesday, June 18 at 7 p.m. Pre-performance talks in Morven’s Stockton Education Center will take place before the Friday and Tuesday shows, at 5:30 p.m. The Friday speaker is composer Julian Grant; the Tuesday speaker is professor Timothy Urban.

Visit princetonsymphonyorchestra.org for tickets.