MU opera sampler

An Opera Through Generations Performed at MU

Madison Cunningham

“An Opera Sampler” made its debut on Saturday Feb. 4. in the Wine Recital Hall. The production, directed by Dr. Debra Lynn, starred both students at Manchester University and local community members who chose to take part in the unique January opera workshop experience.

The sampler showed three scenes from a wide variety of opera styles. They were organized by the years in which they were composed, to give the audience a chance to experience opera chronologically.

Each scene’s cast was challenged with understanding, memorizing and performing the pieces within a month. And for students at Manchester University who chose to take part, they also had the challenge of their January session class on top of it. However, that did not stop the cast from trying their hardest in the performance.

Braydon Hoggatt, a first-year Manchester student, whose love for opera inspired him to perform in one, was thrilled to be able to take part in the workshop. “I was very skeptical I’d ever have an opportunity to do so (perform in an opera style),” Hoggatt said, “but Dr. Lynn helped me make my dream a reality this past January. I cannot begin to describe how thankful I am for her and the countless others that helped persuade and guide me in my role.”

The first performance featured in the sampler was the final scene from the opera “L’incirinazione di Poppea” (translated to “The Coronation of Poppea”), composed by Claudio Monteverdi. This beautiful, romantic, love song was sung in Italian by two of MU’s seniors; Elizabeth Schmidt, and Makenzie Sheridan.

Following “L’incirinazione di Poppea” came “Hansel and Gretel,” composed by Engelbert Humperdinck. Although the act was originally sung in German, it was performed in English.

This well-known nursery story was brought to life by the cast in a unique way. Aside from the talented cast’s voices, the plot was enhanced with many props to bring the story line to life.

After a brief intermission, the sampler returned with its last opera, “Strawberry Fields.” The piece, composed by Michael Torke, gave a glimpse into what it is like not only to have dementia but also to be a supporting figure for someone who has the condition.

In this piece, a confused elder takes a stroll into Strawberry Fields in Central Park, thinking she is there to find her seat for the opera, refusing to go with her son who is trying to find her a lovely home that will aid her for her remaining days. Along the way, she meets many strangers who begin to grow fond of the older lady; one even agrees to stay with her while her son goes off to get help.

Lynn chose to add three other cast members to this opera; Fear and Confusion (played by Daniel Cornett), Paranoia (played by Hailee Rhoades), and Childlike Wonder and Naiveté (played by Amelia Waggy). These cast members were imaginative companions for the older lady, for she was the only one who could see them, and they were meant to depict the side effects that come with having dementia.

Mason Kniola, a soon to be Manchester graduate of 2023, had many tasks within the sampler. For the first scene, Kniola found himself conducting Elizabeth Schmidt and Mackenzie Sheridan through their duet. “I got to control the tempo and entrances and basically, I had all the responsibility to make sure nothing went wrong,” he said. He then prompted the following scene for “Hansel and Gretel,” cueing the cast as they came in.

Kniola was also a part of the cast of “Strawberry Fields,” playing the role of “Son.” This role proved especially challenging for him. “’Strawberry Fields’ was just difficult because it was tough to learn,” he said. “For example, many of the rhythms and text gave emphasis to words you wouldn’t expect or tend to emphasize, and you couldn’t rely on the piano because their part didn’t really match what the singers were singing.”

The Opera sampler held the audience’s attention throughout its two-hour-long duration, and even kept them on their toes at times as the cast interacted with the audience, whether that character meant to fly through the crowd on a witch’s broom as if they were the woods or strolled among the seats, asking for spare change as if they were in Strawberry Fields.