Opera Ensemble amazes with Mayhem, Magic and Merriment

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Calvin James Pynn

cpynn@radford.edu

The Radford University Opera Ensemble made musical waves this past week, entertaining the audience with their theatric recital, titled Opera Magic, Mayhem, and Merriment. The performance took place in the Performance Hall in the Covington Center with two showings – Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. and Tuesday Nov. 8 at 8 p.m.

Clarity James, a longstanding professor in RU’s music department specializing in vocal instruction, directed the performance, despite being on a leave of absence due to illness. Guest artist instructor Robert Chafin helped lead the ensemble in her place. Musical Director Nancy Harder provided piano accompaniment for Magic, Mayhem and Merriment.

The performance featured a variety of songs from different operas spanning a wide range of time, from classical styling of Otto Nicolai to the contemporary compositions of Robert Ward. Overall, the performance managed to exhibit the progression of opera between the periods, but more importantly, the thematic significance within the selected works. Each act was played out as it would have been in the full opera, complete with props, costumes, and simple sets. Overall, it helped enhance the collective experience.

The selections for Magic, Mayhem, and Merriment followed along exactly with themes behind the compositions. As they seemed to be divided into sections, each song performed followed that purpose.

The evening started out with mayhem in the form of The Crucible, adapted from the Arthur Miller play into an opera by composer Robert Ward. While the play is known for its subject matter dealing with the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, this version of the opera takes place during the McCarthyism-dominated 1950s, which Miller allegorically incorporated into his story.

In the selections performed by the RU Ensemble, a church environment was used, along with a focus on a conflict between the couple John and Elizabeth Proctor, played by Adam McAllister and Paige Kenley, respectively. While McAllister and Kenley’s duet was the center of that selection, the entire ensemble opened the performance with the first chorus.

The mayhem continued with selections from The Consul, written and Italian composer Gian-Carlo Menotti. This opera in particular painted a picture of social unrest, focusing on the tragic conflict between the main character Magda (played by Brooke Tolley) who is forced to flee the country when her husband (McAllister) legal trouble threatens her family.

The situation erupts into chaos in the Act II Finale when Magda struggles to obtain a visa, prompting every other person in the waiting room to rebelliously toss their papers in the air following Magda’s powerful song about their oppression. Overall, the empowering scene left a noticeable impact on the audience.

Between the havoc of The Crucible and The Consul, the lighthearted Die Zauberflöte broke the tension of the program’s induced mayhem. Translated as “The Magic Flute,” and composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, this selection made up the magic portion of the performance.

This version of Die Zauberflöte was set in the modern, Las Vegas inspired setting of the American west, and included the Act II duet between a young couple (played by Andrew Goins and Kiersten Miller) respectively named Papageno and Papagena.

This portion of the recital featured a fluttering, upbeat song about the couple’s proclamation of love and desire for children, which manifested itself in the form of three young ballerinas making a surprise appearance, visibly capturing the audience’s hearts. Set against the dark nature of the mayhem pieces, this particular selection provided satisfying amount of bright, aesthetic joy.

The last two performances made up the recital’s merriment component. The first was The Mikado, attributed to British composer Arthur Sullivan. This act consisted of a very western perception of Oriental culture, with a duet between the opera’s two lovers Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, portrayed by Goins and Dixie Mitchell, respectively.

This performance was exclusively comedic in nature, emphasized by the animated actions of Goins and Mitchell, as well the trio in the second performance, played by Sarah Poindexter, Erin O’Neil, and Sara Ramseur. While the selections from the opera were exclusively Victorian in nature, they still managed to entertain a modern audience.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, composed by Otto Nicolai and based on the play by William Shakespeare, made up the night’s final performance. The selections, which were translated to English from the opera’s original German language, focused on a poolside conversation between two friends, Alice Ford (played by Tolley) and Meg Page (played by Natalie Green). This performance displayed a comedic nature similar to that of The Mikado, and the set’s destruction at the end of the first act was reminiscent of The Consul’s conclusion. Following the end of the first act, the night was closed out just as it began, with the entire ensemble taking the stage and singing the opera’s finale.

Overall, the recital was ably performed by the ensemble, and the acts selected for the performance left the audience with a positive sense of satisfaction.  The theatric nature of the program helped maintain the authentic feel of watching an opera in its entirety. Between the sets, props, costumes, and equally powerful vocals of the entire ensemble, Magic, Mayhem, and Merriment, lived up to its title, giving RU a new appreciation for the sophisticated art form.