by Dick Kerekes
The Jacksonville University Division of Music presented an opera workshop featuring American Opera Scenes. It was held on Sunday February 28th at Terry Concert Hall.
This performance had been developed in classes over the past several weeks, with a purpose of giving new students a varied experience in the world of vocal variety in opera. The 1 ½ hour concert featured scenes, done in concert style, from four operas.
The opening opera was Street Scene adapted from a l929 Elmer Rice play that premiered in l947. The music was composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Langston Hughes.
This was followed by Miss Julie, a l965 opera composed by Ned Rorem and based on the work of Sweden’s greatest author, August Strindberg who wrote Miss Julie in l888.
The third selection was a total surprise to me because I never knew that the world famous poem Casey at the Bat had inspired an opera called The Mighty Casey. Composer William Schuman took the l888 poem and turned it into a remarkable theatre experience, especially for someone like me who considers Casey a true joy as a tribute to baseball. An interesting side note, while they were singing this on stage at Terry Hall, the JU baseball team was playing a baseball game on the other side of the campus.
After the second short intermission, several scenes from the famous “Sweeny Todd” closed out the afternoon of entertainment. This is a show I am very familiar with and I was extremely pleased with this short ten scene version, again done concern style with the principals in front using music stands, while the Opera Workshop Chorus sat in chairs behind them.
Costuming was done for each selection, with street wear for the New York scene, formal attire for Miss Julie, white summer dresses and pants for Casey and everyone in totally black wardrobe for Sweeny Todd A small couch for Miss Julie was the only furniture and three sets of small four step portable bleachers were effective used in three of the operas.
The performance was directed by Kimberly Beasley who narrated and conducted, with Vincent Teschel as assistant stage manager. Bonita Wyke performed very effectively as Musical Director on the piano, assisted by Terrance Peters on saxophone and Aaron Plotz on drums. Brian Palmer was choreographer, with lights by Greg Bosworth.
Those in the featured roles, and often in more than one scene, were Tara Yates-Reeves, Tracy Davis, Leanne Gullo, Julie Froslee, Michelle Mestas, Alex Frost, Sapphire Garrett, Tatiana Zappardino, Maggie Moore, Maggie Dodd, Ross Frontz, Daniel Prill, Lukas Cyr, Taylor Anderson, Vincent Teschel, Toney Williams, Stephen Johns, Malone Thomas, Tiffany Thomas, Rachel Harding, Samantha Bausemer, and Katy Sputo. Most of these talented singers I was seeing for the first time except for Lukas Cyr and Vincent Teschel who have been in several JU productions in musical and dramatic roles. In April, Jacksonville University will be presenting the musical Chess at the Florida Theatre and also on campus in the Swisher Theatre in April and I am sure that several of the performers from this show will be in Chess. Another opera workshop is planned later this year at a date to be announced, and I am looking forward to it as well.
I have now attended several shows at both the Terry Concert Hall and its next door neighbor, The Swisher Theatre, and find both facilities excellent and truly an asset to the cultural growth of this city. If you have not taken the opportunity to see a performance in either of them, check out Jacksonville University on their website for announcement of future events. You will be glad you did. Thanks for a delightful afternoon of fine music.