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“Close Encounters” of the musical kind

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Aaron Shouse (‘18), Josh Vidervol (‘18), and Isaac Stivers (‘19) opened the show with an excerpt from “Cosí fan tutte.”

Aaron Shouse (‘18), Josh Vidervol (‘18), and Isaac Stivers (‘19) opened the show with an excerpt from “Cosí fan tutte.”

Kien Dao (‘20) | Photo Bureau

Kien Dao (‘20) | Photo Bureau

Aaron Shouse (‘18), Josh Vidervol (‘18), and Isaac Stivers (‘19) opened the show with an excerpt from “Cosí fan tutte.”

Grace Onsrud, Staff Writer

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From hesitant admissions of love to sword fights to songs admiring the majesty of an ice cream cone, the Fall Opera Scenes performance showed audience members that opera is anything but mundane. Titled “Close Encounters,” the performance included a group of 20 vocal students and three piano students performing a variety of opera and musical scenes in the Noble Recital Hall (NRH) on Nov. 17 and 18.

The students sang and acted in scenes from operas including “Carmen” and “Cosi Fan Tutte,” as well as musicals such as “Into the Woods” and “Kiss Me Kate.” The scenes ranged from duets to full group pieces and were performed in several languages.

The theme that connected all of the scenes was “Close Encounters” because each scene involved a critical point of interaction between characters or a twist in the plotline. For each scene, a short summary of what happened leading up to the scene was projected on the wall to give the audience context. Translations were also projected behind the performers during scenes performed in different languages.

The students auditioned for the production last spring and then started rehearsing at the beginning of fall semester. Opera Scenes acts as a course available from the music department and is offered every fall. This semester, three members of the music faculty worked together to teach the course: Assistant Professor of Music Deborah Gover, Adjunct Faculty in Music Jonathon Struve (‘02), and Assistant Professor of Music Nicholas Shaneyfelt. The directors chose the scenes based on the types of voices that auditioned.

Kien Dao (‘20) | Photo Bureau
Nathan Baldwin (‘19), Michaela Phillips (‘20), and Kelvin Li (‘18) perform “Nous avons en tête une affaire” from the opera “Carmen.”

The Fall Opera Scenes was a unique performance because it did not have official stage management, sound crew, lighting crew, or costume designers. Because of this, the students involved took over these roles. In past years, the Opera Scenes performers wore all black and had minimal props. However, the performers this year wore costumes and used a variety of set pieces and props to add to the scenes.

Performer Mitch Gage (‘19), who also took on the responsibilities of stage manager, said Opera Scenes is a way to gain experience in a variety of roles.

“We can learn how to get better in a scene that we might not be quite ready for in a full production because we aren’t at that age level or don’t have the full ability yet,” Gage said. “But it’s fun to be able to work on dissecting a character in just one scene.”

Gover stressed the importance of Opera Scenes as a way to learn how to perform onstage without the pressures of putting on a full production.

“It’s a great way for them to learn how to be onstage; how to take direction; and how to deal with colleagues, an audience, and lighting,” Gover said. “All of that affects the artist. And singers do not often have the opportunities, before getting a role, to try all of these things out.”

Another unique aspect of Opera Scenes is that the collaborative pianists perform onstage behind the vocalists rather than in an orchestra with a conductor. Student accompanist Anne Wilson (‘20) said that the pianists were mindful of their focus in order to adapt to this kind of a performance.

“You have to think about playing for a bunch of people at the same time,” Wilson said. “Playing Mozart and accompanying people at the same time is difficult because you have to really watch what you’re playing and who you’re playing for, especially when you have six people singing at the same time.”

Audience member Emily Youel (‘19) was impressed by the actors’ focus.

“They all had beautiful voices,” Youel said. “It was cool to see them staying in character and feeling the music and moving around the stage while still using such good vocal technique. It was a great mixture of music and theater.”

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The student news site of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa