Agostina Migoni ('15 M.M.) and Bethany Mamola ('19 D.M.A.) were auditioning in Berlin when they began talking about how burnt out they felt from the travels and struggles of classical musicians.
They wanted an organization that broke down barriers -- such as underrepresentation and foreign languages -- and worked in intimate settings and collaborated with a range of artists.
So they created the Das Blümelein Project. "Das blümelein" means "flower bud."
"For us that represented what the project was -- this small idea," Mamola says. "We knew it was special. We know it's going to unfold bigger than ourselves."
The project has presented nine productions over the last three years, with their upcoming project A Lily Among Thorns playing Sept. 2-4 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Winspear Opera House in Dallas -- one of the most prestigious venues in the area.
All proceeds go to paying the artists. And they've achieved this while fundraising in a competitive field and handling restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's been difficult to work through all of the pivots," Mamola says. "That is the beauty of the project -- to see all of these artists step up and create and put themselves all into the project. We get to watch them bloom and create."
Opera is not accessible for everyone. It can be pricey, is often sung in a foreign language and historically has neglected marginalized communities.
Migoni and Mamola want to change that.
"Classical music is beautiful and these stories and compositions should be heard, but we need to find a way to make them relevant," Migoni says. "It's our job as artists to take this art and make it relevant again and not preserve it as if it were in a museum."
They've presented their productions in unconventional venues and teamed up with visual artists. In the Texas Project, a string quartet and a trio of dancers performed in front of the works of textile and visual artists as Migoni and Mamola sang. For the Marfa Project, they rolled a piano into the only theater in town, and then the piano traveled to a table filled with a chef's dinner of foraged ingredients.
"Each one has been different but it always comes down to the story," Migoni says. "What do we want to say and what's the story? We ask those questions and the productions just come to us. As we develop and create a more concrete idea of the production, we bring in collaborators to add their touch and so we begin to create the layers together."
Their newest production takes the same approach. Lily presents women's stories of strength and empowerment in three different vignettes. In the first set, Try Me Good King, women sing the last words of five of King Henry XIII's wives. It was scheduled to be performed live two years ago but was instead recorded due to the pandemic.
The next piece, Frauenliebe und Leben, features Migoni and Mamola singing one woman's story about life and love, with Migoni taking on the dark moments and Mamola performing the light moments.
Finally, A Lily Among Thorns, written by the late John La Montaine, features different cycles from the Song of Songs in the Bible that were originally intended for a full opera. The production emphasizes the beauty of the Black experience and, like many of the other projects, features UNT alumni. Erica Simmons ('21 D.M.A.) sings and Samantha Kantak Dapcic ('19 D.M.A.) directs.
"We're hiring them because they're amazing," Mamola says.
They also emphasized how the faculty at UNT -- including Stephen Morscheck, Stephen Dubberly and Paula Homer -- have been an enormous help.
"There were these wonderful mentors," Mamola says. "They gave us confidence, knowledge and academic support."