Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February 26, 2016
DINNER AND A SHOW Students and community members perform “Don Giovanni” in Cordier Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Debra Lynn

Mozart Meets Mohawks: MU Presents a Classic Opera

Sarah Farnam

Last weekend, the Manchester University Department of Music put on an intimate steampunk opera dinner-theater event that allowed students, faculty, staff and community members to get up close and personal with the opera experience.

The event took place in Cordier Auditorium, but only a small portion of the space was utilized. Tables set with bright green napkins and masquerade masks were lined up on the stage, as was the orchestra, the buffet table and the set for the operas. Two operas were performed—one before dinner and one after. Dessert was served during the intermission of the second play.

As guests enjoyed salads and rolls, Manchester University senior Michael Rueff and sophomore Kenzie Hare, alongside retired lab technician Sandy Funk, performed an operatic version of the Dr. Seuss story “Green Eggs and Ham.” Director Debra Lynn referred to this as a “light musical appetizer” before the main course of “Don Giovanni.” Hare sang the classic rhymes with impressive speed and vocal strength. This brief prelude was an entertaining way to invite guests to get their own slice of ham from the buffet, which was being kept hot at the edge of the stage. 

The dinner consisted of apricot glazed ham, fresh green beans and sweet potato casserole. After audience members had the chance to mingle and plates had been cleared, the main event commenced. 

Actors performed “Don Giovanni” by Lorenzo Da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a play in which a dark yet charming seducer of women, the titular Don Giovanni, learns his lesson for selfishly manipulating his comrades and playing with the hearts of the girls that fall for him. 

Giovanni was played by junior Grant Ebert, whose deep baritone vocals made him believable as the enchanting schemer. He and junior Joshua Dold, who portrayed Giovanni’s servant, Leporello, played off of each other wonderfully, packing comic relief in their banter and intensity in their more serious moments. Dold often interacted with the audience by weaving through the tables as he sang. “Any time I can work with Mozart, the wonderful students at Manchester, and the excellent music professors is a ball of a time!” he said enthusiastically.

Though the sets were simplistic—no more than a few props on stage at a time—the costumes and makeup made up for any lack of flash. Holding true to the steampunk-style, actors donned classic Victorian corsets and waistcoats paired with steampunk-inspired goggles, crimped and voluminous hairstyles, and bright, abstract face paint around the eyes.

None of the performers used a microphone, which is the norm for operatic performances. However, the talented students belted out their lines clearly for the audience. Even more impressive was their ability to rapidly spit out the quickest pieces of dialogue in song while remaining in character. Though the cast only performed about 65 percent of the full “Don Giovanni” opera, the performance lasted for about two hours. The cast kept its energy high, their voices strong and their audience entertained.