Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February  24, 2017

Opera Workshop Showcases Student Talent 

Ciara Knisely

Manchester’s Opera Workshop, “Love: Sublime and Ridiculous,” premiered Friday night and continued throughout the weekend, showcasing incredible talent of all sorts from exceptional vocals to hilarious jokes. 

The audience nearly filled Wine Recital Hall and included a wide range of attendees, all looking to enjoy the talent of this year’s Opera Workshop. 

The production began with a brief introduction by Dr. Debra Lynn, director of Choral Activities and Voice Study, that conveyed how much time and dedication she had put into the performance as her 19th year serving as the director. Setting the precedent for the show, Lynn stated that operas were “movies before there were movies.”

The first scene, Act I of “Tales of Hoffmann,” started with Dr. Pamela Haynes at a piano on stage, dressed in a flowing, sequined purple dress resembling 1920s flapper dresses. The rest of the cast slowly appeared, also wearing an assortment of tasteful, vintage-styled outfits, complete with feathers, pearls and bow ties. 

When the first few cast members began to sing, it seemed a bit askew that the piano was the only source of accompanying music, but their magnificent voices quickly made up for that. At some points in the show, the chorus and their assortment of vocal registers filled the room with such beautiful music that it was hard to believe that the piano was, in fact, the only music playing. 

Act I from "Tales of Hoffmann" was rather short, but still intriguing, telling the story of an inventor who creates a very realistic automaton to be his "daughter." Olympia, the daughter, was played by Kenzie Hare, junior vocal performance major. 

Though the entire performance was outstanding, there was clearly something special within Hare’s voice as Olympia. She identifies her vocal register as coloratura soprano, allowing her to sing very high pitches. Hare says she wouldn’t consider the coloratura register to be rare, but it is definitely uncommon. Her role as Olympia showcases her ability to reach those high notes, and it is no small feat, especially when performing without a microphone. 

Hare expressed that it was hard for her to learn to sit completely still, as her character is a human-like robot, but she still had fun with it and appeared to have mastered the jerky motions of a robot.

It was very entertaining to watch the character of Hoffmann, played by sophomore general music major Jake Svay, slowly fall in love with his beautiful automaton. When combining Svay’s melodic voice and his character’s hilarious lines, “Tales of Hoffmann” became an unforgettable performance, and regrettably short. The scene ended in hilarious (intentional) disaster. 

After intermission, the second production began: “Amelia Goes to the Ball” featured an uptight woman, played by Emily Lynn, first-year vocal performance and French double major, who desperately wants to go to the ball. Not only did Lynn do a fantastic job making the crowd laugh, but she also made the audience love her character, despite her vain attitude and comically snobbish remarks. 

The cast appeared to be having as much fun as the audience was. The most surprising part of the show was when Amelia (played by Lynn) smashed a glass bottle over her husband’s head, sending shattered glass everywhere. 

“We were so excited that Debra ordered some stage glass so that we could have something that breaks and was super dramatic,” Hare said. “Our favorite thing to do backstage was to listen to the audience's reaction to Grant getting whacked on the head by Emily!” 

Junior history and education major Matt Grothouse says the crowds interacted well with the show and encouraged the cast. “This exchange of energy encouraged me to perform my character more theatrically,” Grothouse said. 

Because the opera had such modern themes throughout the show, it surprised the audience. 

“I didn’t expect it to be that good,” noted first-year Fotini Kristuli. “I thought it would be sad.”

First-year William Southern agreed. “The workshop certainly broadened my perspective of musical theater,” he said. “Prior to the premiere on Friday evening, I was not sure what to expect of an opera, but afterwards I was pleased to have attended due to the impressive cast and their abilities to simultaneous sing and act on stage.”