A Q&A with Music’s Micaela Baranello
Assistant Professor of Musicology
Department of Music
In this conversation, Baranello talks about combining her love of the history of music with teaching, her specialty in Viennese operetta – the ancestor of today’s Broadway musical, her passion for travel and covering musical events as a journalist, her work with Opera Fayetteville, and enjoying local trivia nights with her team.
Q: Tell us a little about your research, academic passions and/or role within the college. What excites you about this?
My specialty is Viennese operetta in the early twentieth century, which is more or less the ancestor of today’s Broadway musical. It’s incredibly fun, tuneful music and it’s about the daily life and struggles of regular people in a way that the concert music of that era usually isn’t.
I’m also interested in contemporary performance of older operas, particularly how today’s audiences view historical subjects.
What keeps us coming back to these composers like Mozart, Verdi and Wagner and what have they come to mean for us today? What voices are we leaving out? Since a lot of my students here are performing this music, I always try to bring these questions to class.
However, most undergraduate music majors are most likely to encounter me in Music History 1, a course about music from the medieval period to around 1750.
I love that I get to work with so many different kinds of music!
Q: How long have you been at Fulbright College? What have you enjoyed most about your time here?
I’m in my third year here. The Department of Music here is quite large compared to that of my previous job, at Smith College. I love having so many great colleagues – we all work together quite well.
I have a writing group with several other junior faculty; we just hang out together in a café and work on our research. Academic work can be lonely, but this makes it communal, and when we’re not sure if something makes sense, we can consult each other.
I also love teaching graduate students, where we can really discuss a topic in depth.
Q: What do you most hope your students remember from their classes and/or interactions with you?
I mostly teach students who perform music, and I hope that my classes lead them to reflect on their roles as communicators.
People like to call music a universal language, but that’s not really true. When you study music history, you realize how things you take for granted – like the way you tune your instrument – actually have changed a lot over time.
In my Music History 1 class, we study a lament by the composer Gilles Binchois from the 1430s, which students always think doesn’t sound very sad. What does this tell us about how people grieved in that time compared to now? What are the composer and the poet saying in this piece?
This leads you to ask yourself more broadly: what am I saying when I perform? Does my audience understand it? How do I define my role as a musician in the world?
I think studying history can give us all sorts of answers to these questions.
I also hope that students learn to use apostrophes correctly. AutoCorrect does not always know best! (All my students know I’m a stickler for things like apostrophes and capitalization.)
Q: What do you like to do during your time outside of the university?
I like to travel a lot! I have a background as a music critic and in the summer, I try to do some journalistic writing, which also takes me to some interesting places.
Last summer I spent a week in southern France at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, which I wrote about for the Financial Times, and I got to go to Munich to write a profile of Barrie Kosky, an Australian opera director, for The New York Times.
In October, I got to go to the Royal Opera House in London and participate in a roundtable about opera staging today. I was happy to represent Fayetteville’s classical music scene in London!
I also work with Opera Fayetteville, which is Fayetteville’s only opera company. We perform at the Walton Arts Center and I’m its Director of Marketing and Social Media. The company was founded by Tamara Ryan, who is an old friend of mine from college (we were both music majors at Swarthmore, which is a little liberal arts college outside Philadelphia). When I moved to Fayetteville, I was so excited to reunite with her and support her work.
Opera Fayetteville does all new opera in English, which is quite different from the European opera most people are more familiar with, and we’re in a small space, so you’re up close to the action. We hire singers from all over the world and I think the performances are really good (and I don’t just say that as Director of Marketing).
I’m not always working on music, though! I love my trivia team, which can be found playing in various places around Fayetteville, and I like to knit my own sweaters (sometimes I do both these things at the same time).
As my students know, I also watch a lot of TV and am prone to doing things like teaching Nietzshe’s eternal return with reference to Netflix shows.
Q: What’s up next on the horizon for you?
I’m currently finishing my book, The Operetta Empire, which is about Viennese operetta and the politics of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early twentieth century. I have to finish by April and the pressure is on; it’s hard to think about much else.
I’m also preparing for Opera Fayetteville’s next production: Glory Denied by the American composer Tom Cipullo, which is an opera about America’s longest-held prisoner of war and his return home. It’s on at the Walton Arts Center in March and we’re planning some special events.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add or let readers know?
If you’re a student, please consider taking a class in the Department of Music, even if you have no previous musical experience!
Or at least come to some of our performances. We’re always happy to see new people!