For her thesis, a senior composes an opera about the search for belief

Allegra Wiprud ’14 sings an aria as she writes a letter to the mother of her son’s sweetheart in OMG.
Steven Senko

The final scene of Stephanie Leotsakos ’16’s chamber opera, OMG, opens with a World War II veteran clasping an amulet to his heart, weeping about the memory of his mother, Anna. His daughter, Anna Francesca, walks into the room, distracted by her cellphone. Her Snapchats and emojis are projected onto the screen behind the stage; for a moment, the only music is the sound of screen swipes and texting. Then Anna looks up — and she sees her father crying. “OMG,” she sings, and drops her phone. 

OMG, Leotsakos’ senior-thesis opera, premiered April 23 in Taplin Auditorium. The 51-minute production featured eight singers and 10 musicians. The story opens in A.D. 550 near the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy; over six scenes, it moves toward the present day. 

OMG is by far the most complex thing I have ever created,” said Leotsakos, who learned the violin at 3, the piano at 4, and the viola at 9. She started composing two years ago.

A music major with certificates in vocal performance and teacher preparation, Leotsakos said she began thinking about her thesis as an opera at the end of her junior year. On a summer research trip to Verona, Italy, she studied operatic structure as well as the questions of why people seek religion and why Christianity has survived. 

Stephanie Leotsakos ’16, center, and the cast of OMG take a bow.
Steven Senko
Returning to campus, she wondered: “When might someone actually say, ‘Oh, my God’?” 

She decided to devote her senior year to that question: OMG, she said, is an opera about searching for true faith and belief — not meme-speak. 

From the start, she said, “I had professionals and professors telling me to drop the production. They basically said that no professional would attempt a project like this. They told me it would be impossible in anything less than a two-year time frame.”

Still, she kept writing, editing, staging, and producing — a crescendo through her senior year. She finished writing the music just two weeks before the opera’s opening. 

Leotsakos said she will spend the next year preparing to apply for a master’s program in vocal performance, with a goal of becoming an opera singer who composes and conducts. She also hopes to reproduce OMG in New York — on wider stages, and bigger screens.