Manchester Opera Workshop performances are Feb. 4

Feb 2, 2023, 16:15 PM by Nathan Haywood
Manchester University offers Opera Workshop performances at 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4 in Wine Recital Hall on the North Manchester campus. General admission is $7. It is free for MU faculty, staff and students.
Opera Workshop 2023 

Manchester University offers Opera Workshop performances at 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4 in Wine Recital Hall on the North Manchester campus.

General admission is $7. It is free for MU faculty, staff and students.

“Everything is sung in English, and we will include supertitles during the performance to make the lyrics even easier to understand,” said Debra Lynn, professor of music and director of choral organizations and voice study at Manchester. She works to make opera accessible to modern audiences. 

Mackenzie Sheridan

Here is the program:

  • “L’incoronazione di Poppea” (The Coronation of Poppea) by Claudio Monteverdi, final scene. Love duet between Poppea (Elizabeth Schmidt, soprano) and Nero (Mackenzie Sheridan, mezzo-soprano). 
  • “Hansel and Gretel” by Engelbert Humperdinck, most of the third act. Featuring Gretel (Angelina Funk, soprano), Hansel (Sheridan) and the Witch (Cassandra Petrie, mezzo-soprano
  • “Strawberry Fields” by Michael Torke, entire one-act opera. None of the characters have names, but the principal characters are: Old Lady (Sheridan), Grad Student (Renae Walker-Zamora, contralto), Son (Mason Kniola, baritone), Daughter (Rachael Waggy, soprano), Panhandler (Braydon Hoggatt, baritone), Nurse (Mykayla Stanley, soprano), Girl (Kyla Andrews, soprano) and Boy (Joel Waggy, tenor).

"I'm really proud of these cast members who are putting their hearts and souls into this compelling story about the many ways we grapple with dementia," Lynn said.

Notes from Dr. Lynn for background:

Opera Workshop is a wonderful annual tradition I started during my early years at MU. It embodies my personal goal of educating people about this fascinating and unique art form that is like no other musical genre.

Much as I love Bugs Bunny cartoons, let’s face it – the Warner Bros. perpetuation of operatic stereotypes has introduced opera to most American kids as something to ridicule for generations. Unlike Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, the rural American landscape isn’t sprinkled with opera houses, so most people who live in these communities never have an opportunity to see beyond “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera Doc?” voiced by the brilliantly talented, but mocking voice of Mel Blanc.

Debra Lynn portrait

One of my lifelong missions has been to awaken talented young singers to real opera – the cinematic aspect that encompasses all the drama, music, set, costumes and movement into this entirely sung story-telling device. It is far from ridiculous. It is compelling and beautiful. I believe it is the highest form of art because it is dependent upon gathering all forms of art: music, literature, poetry, language, visual art, and dance.

When I started teaching at Manchester University more than two decades ago, I wanted to start an opera workshop class. These are not uncommon at colleges and universities that offer degrees in vocal performance – in fact, it is an important part of those degree programs. We were already opening many of our ensembles to non-students (such as the Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Manchester Symphony Chorus), so I decided to do likewise with our opera workshop. It has been a tremendous success.

In addition to students, we usually have several alumni in the opera production as well as others from the Wabash County area. While one goal is to create and perform a stage production, the main goal (for me anyway) is to break down those old operatic stereotypes and educate both the participants and the audience about opera. 

My philosophy is to cast everyone who is interested, so my opera workshops are unique. Most college and university opera workshop programs run like any theatrical production. They look at their talent pool to determine what’s possible, they select a show, and then announce auditions. This causes many singers to hesitant about auditioning, even if they are interested, especially if they have never sung a solo or do not have what they consider to be an “operatic” voice.

Renae Walker-Zamora

My approach is to gather those who are interested and find out what sort of role they might like to try. I ask them to also consider the time and energy they are willing to commit – since larger solo roles involve much more stage rehearsal time, individual practice, and memorization than chorus or small solo roles. Once I have that information from everyone who wants to participate, I make sure I have a good grasp of their vocal sound and then I decide what operas and excerpts will best fit the participants we have. 

This year, it’s a truly a varied program because we are starting with a short scene from one of the first operas ever composed “L’incoronazione di Poppea,” and we are ending with a 40-minute, one-act opera that was composed in 1999 called “Strawberry Fields.” The composer is still living and composing in New York City. In between these bookends of the very old and the very new, we will perform a great operatic classic from the Romantic era, “Hansel and Gretel,” a familiar bit of folklore we can all enjoy. 

For the media

Dr. Debra J. Lynn can be reached for an interview at
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January 2023