10/11/13

Opera Opening Night at Simpson College!

Tonight is the opening night of the double bill that I directed at Simpson College.  It features a cast and crew of over 50 students who have worked tirelessly the past 6 weeks preparing these productions to perform.  The 12-15 hour days the past week or two have left me running on fumes, but it was all worth it to see the growth each of these students went through during the process.  They are ready for an audience!

Speaking of audiences - you can get tickets here.

We had our final dress rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday night, and below are some photographs taken during the rehearsal.

The opera Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is by Puccini and is set in the 17th Century in a convent just outside of Siena, Italy.  Women were oft sent to convents in Italy during that time period by families that did not have enough money to pay the dowry for each of their daughters to be married.  Many of these families could, however, afford a smaller dowry for entrance into a convent.  Others were there due to having a child out of wedlock which brought shame upon their family.  So they were sent "away" to the convent.  Some were there due to being orphans, or the death of their parents.  

Sister Angelica lost her parents when she was a toddler and was raised by her Aunt.  Angelica has a child out of wedlock and is sent away to the convent.  A full seven years later, her Aunt visits her in the convent for the first time to ask Angelica to sign over all of her inheritance to her younger sister Anna Viola who is getting married.  The money will be used to pay for Anna Viola's dowry.  The Aunt also informs Angelica that her son died 2 years ago of an illness.  Having lost her family, her son, all of her money, and being shamed by her Aunt leaves Angelica so distraught, that she opts to commit suicide by making a deadly potion.  It's quite a moving piece and the ladies are doing so well in delivering this drama that I know the audience will be moved.

The Mistress of the Novices instructs

The Nuns have Food!

Curlew River is an opera based on an ancient Japanese Noh play.  Benjamin Britten saw the play 2 times during the course of a week while visiting Japan in the 1950's.  He was so moved by the play and the style of acting that he had the play adapted to be Christian based and set in the Fenlands during the 15th Century in England.  It has never been performed at Simpson and we think this is the first time in Iowa that this piece will be performed.

The play is performed by a group of monks who travel from their cloister to tell parables.  Curlew River is one of the parables they tell and they arrive and perform their parable before the audience.  The story is narrated by the Abbot and stars a Madwoman seeking her son who was kidnapped one year ago.   She has been "mad" out of guilt and wanders the land searching for her lost son.  She arrives at the Curlew River where a Ferryman operates a boat that crosses the river.  She, along with a traveler, ask for ferry service to cross the river.  Once the Ferryman agrees to allow them on the boat, he tells a story of a man who was with a boy, actually took his ferry one year ago to the day.  The man was mean to the boy, and the boy appeared quite ill.

The Ferryman tells the group in the boat as they cross the river the story that the boy died and was buried on the opposite side of the river near the bank.  His grave has become a spiritual refuge for many to go and visit.  The Madwoman puts 2 and 2 together and realizes that this is her son that has died and was on the Ferryman's boat with the kidnapper one year ago.  The monks encourage her to pray at the grave along with them and the spirit of the boy appears and informs his mother that she doesn't need to worry.  He comforts her by saying that some day she will join him in heaven and all will be right.  Hearing this, the Madwoman suddenly becomes sane again in a tremendous release of her guilt.  The characters in the parable resume their monk robes and end the opera just as they had begun it.

It's a stunning and unique piece that the men have worked really hard to learn.  The music is very difficult and has a learning curve way beyond the normal undergraduate scope.  Yet, they have embraced the challenge of not only the music, but also how to portray the drama in the most natural way we could come up with during the rehearsal process.  The professional orchestra sounds incredible and is enjoying playing this unique score.  Not to be missed!

The Madwoman seeing birds flying around the Curlew River...

The Madwoman sees a Curlew

The Ferryman navigates the Curlew River with a boat load of customers...

The Ferryman navigates the Curlew River



A final thanks to the tireless crew.  Alan Edwards is our guest scene and lighting designer from New York City.  He has transformed Lekberg Hall into a clositer and lit it beautifully.  Ken Duschek was the technical director who built the set.  Two students of mine, Tyler Frankhouse and Trevor Halder have put in countless hours along with Chris Heineman to make these productions a realityJanie Westendorf has costumed the show within our budget and our student costumer Katie Malone has been busy with alterations and keeping everyone happy in their costumes.  Alan, Ken, Tyler, Trevor, Chris and I have lived in Lekberg Hall the past week getting the final details of the set, props, and lighting turned into reality.

If any of you have interest in opera, I highly recommend catching one of the performances this weekend.  Tonight would be the prime seating availability according to what I have heard about ticket sales.  I have thoroughly enjoyed working with these students and am proud to see the growth each and every one of them experienced with their stage craft and musical skills.

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