Giuseppe Verdi's arias displayed at MU Honors College 'Speaking of Culture' talk

Sunday, October 13, 2013 | 8:15 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When Michael Budds hears the music of composer Giuseppe Verdi, it's as if he can't help but stand on his tip-toes and quietly sing the composer's arias in an operatic soprano that's usually left to the professionals.

Those arias were on full display Sunday during the MU professor's "Speaking of Culture" talk, the second in a new series of lectures organized by the MU Honors College.

Upcoming lectures

A new speaker will give a talk at Orr Street Studios at 2 p.m. for the "Speaking of Culture" lecture series each month through April. The upcoming lectures are:

Nov. 10: "Reflections on the Gateway Arch" by Arthur Mehrhoff

Dec. 8: "'Tis the Season: Considering American Wintertime Celebrations" by Chip Callahan

Jan. 12: "'But is it Good?': Julia Roberts and the Cinematic Art Historian" by James Van Dyke

Feb. 9: "Mating Matters: A Valentine's Day Primer on Human Coupling" by Libby Cowgill

March 9: "Shades of Sherlock: Film and TV Versions of Literature's Most Famous Detective" by Nancy West

April 13: "Hitting Home: A Talk on Poetry and Baseball" by Gabriel Fried

More information about the lectures is available at

Nearly 60 people gathered in Orr Street Studios for the lecture to learn about Verdi's opera and to celebrate the composer's 200th birthday, which was Thursday.

Budds led the group through an exploration of Verdi's life and music. The 19th-century Italian composer is best known for his attention to the artistic preferences of the middle class and the well-known song "La Donna è Mobile."

Although all of Verdi's works are in Italian, Budds assured the crowd that the lyrics needed very little translation — everything could be understood by the tone of the song.

"There are three Italian words you need to know to understand Italian opera," he said. "Addio, goodbye. Vendetta, revenge. And amore."

Sophomore Jared Law said that although he'd studied the composer before, the lecture really helped him understand the music on a deeper level.

"I've heard of Verdi and his works, but I've never thought about interpreting them," he said.

Five students from the MU Honors College organized the lecture series as part of a semester-long class led by Gabriel Fried, a visiting assistant professor in MU's English department. 

They are responsible for publicizing the events, coordinating with the speakers and making sure everything is set up on the day of the event. They even worked together to bake the homemade pumpkin bread served to their guests in the kitchen of Nancy West, director of the Honors College.

Marjorie Perkins, the student in charge of Sunday's event, said attendance for the lectures has exceeded expectations.

"Oh gosh, we've had so many more people than expected," she said. "For the first one we had 40 chairs set up, and we were expecting 15 or 20 people. But then 102 people came, and we had to start pulling chairs from everywhere." 

Because she really enjoyed some of the lectures she attended as part of her coursework at MU, Perkins said she wanted to help bring that experience to Columbia as a whole.

"It's something different and pretty unique," Perkins said. "It gives people something new to learn about."

The topics of the lectures vary widely: the intersection of poetry and baseball, the significance of famous St. Louis architecture and Julia Roberts' portrayals of art historians are slated for discussion in the upcoming months.

And topics for next year are already being brainstormed.

The idea for a new lecture series for the public began about a year ago when West approached Fried with the idea. Modeled after the university's Saturday Morning Science program, the two wanted to create a series for people interested in topics of culture.

"There are lots of people in this town with lots of different takes on culture and the arts," Fried said. "We just want to give them a chance to talk in a larger setting."  

Fried and the students appeared to successfully create these conversations. Although people entered the studio audibly talking about quotidian concerns, such as babysitting grandchildren and homework, they could be heard discussing famous composers and how the history of humanity is written through music as they left.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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