If you go

What: CU Opera stages Verdi's "Falstaff"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17

Where: Macky Auditorium, University of Colorado campus

Tickets: $14-$38

Info: 303-492-8008 or cupresents.org

Aaron Jenkins auditioned only on a whim. As a freshman with no opera experience, he figured he didn't stand a chance on the stage against the University of Colorado's musical bigwigs and grad students.

But in a way, he had been training for the role for the past three years; he just didn't know it.

He was shocked when he was chosen to join the elite cast of the CU Opera, performing Verdi's "Falstaff." The show opens tonight in the Macky Auditorium and runs through Sunday.

A freshman has never been cast in a major role for a CU Opera performance during current director Leigh Holman's 5-year-tenure, and probably much further back than that, according to officials. Jenkins says no one he has worked with can remember a time when a freshman landed the honor.

Jenkins, a double-major in music and music education, will play the role of Bardofo, Falstaff's friend.

He remembers the first rehearsal, when the cast first ran through the music and singing.

"I came in, sitting with grad students and I'm only 18 years old. They're all experienced people, and this is my first time doing this," Jenkins says. "It was confidence building."

But it wasn't easy, he says. Between juggling college classes, a new city and school and personal issues, he says time management has been the biggest challenge. Jenkins is one of the few cast members who is not double-cast, so he has to attend nearly every rehearsal. For the past five weeks, he says he has been in rehearsal from 4 to 6 p.m. and again from 7 to 10 p.m. He says he tries to squeeze homework into the little gaps of the day.

Luckily, one hurdle he hasn't needed to climb has been singing in a foreign language. Three years ago at Grand Junction High School, he says his choir teacher, Marcia Wieland, took him under her wing and offered him free voice lessons.

"I never had the opportunity to have voice lessons when I was growing up, because it cost so much money," Jenkins says. "She opened me up to music and being a performer."

When she first asked him to sing in Italian, he says it was comically awful.

"I couldn't understand it. It was very weird for me to sing different languages," Jenkins says. "But she always saw me as an opera singer, when I didn't even see myself as an opera singer."

He believes he would not have landed this role without his teacher's generosity.

Unfortunately, Wieland is at a convention in Dallas and unable to attend her former students' opera debut. But she came to a dress rehearsal last week -- a sort of private show.

This experience has taught Jenkins to always try -- even if you don't have a chance to get what you want.

"If I had turned away the opportunity, I feel like I would have missed something really big, something I could be a part of that was bigger than my day-to-day life," he says. "It's definitely worth taking that first step, that jump into the unknown."