Tag: opera

“Breathe,” an opera performed in the water, ready for its debut at Lawrence

A photo link to video of "Breathe" rehearsal at the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool.
Take a sneak peek at what “Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera” will look like this weekend in Lawrence University’s Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool. It will be performed Saturday and Sunday.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Odds are, you haven’t seen anything like this before.

Yes, it’s an opera performance. And, yes, many of the usual expectations are there — there are opera singers and percussionists, trumpets, a cello, even a flute. There are dancers and a keyboardist and a bass player. Tuxedos will be worn. 

But there’s a twist.

The stage? Well, it’s a swimming pool. A fully functioning swimming pool.

Welcome to Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera, set to be staged this weekend at the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool at Lawrence University. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“When we normally consider the arts, we put it on a stage and we sit, and there it is,” said Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, the composer and musical director for the production. “But here the audience is going to interact in a much different way.”

The mastermind behind Breathe is Gabriel Forestieri, a Boston-based choreographer and director who teamed with Dempster two years ago to stage the water opera at Middlebury College in Vermont. He, along with Dempster and author and visual artist Adrian Jevicki, will try to bring that same magic to the pool at Lawrence this weekend, an invitation that came from Margaret Sunghe Paek, who is married to Dempster, is an instructor of dance in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and curates the Lawrence Dance Series.

“I saw the video of them in the water,” Paek said. “I said, ‘We need to bring that here to Lawrence. We need to bring some version of that here.”

It’s taken two years, but it’s finally here. This version is heavier on musicians than the one at Middlebury, a nod to the diverse talents available courtesy of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Unusual as it might be, it wasn’t a hard sell, Dempster said.

“With the conservatory here and the wealth of really great musicianship available and people who are really excited to try something different, you find there is a curiosity there,” Dempster said. “It’s really doubled in size.”

Gabriel Forestieri and Loren Kiyoshi Dempster float in the water while performing "Breathe."
Gabriel Forestieri and Loren Kiyoshi Dempster will reunite for “Breathe,” a water opera.

Innovative opera nothing new at Lawrence: Mass broke down barriers

More on Lawrence Conservatory of Music here

There are more than 20 performers in the cast. Some are students from the conservatory, some from the college, some are athletes — including a diver — and some are professional dancers from the community.

“I saw a diver doing dives one day,” Paek said. “I went up to her and said, ‘Would you want to be in a water opera?’ And she’s in it. Things like that happened.”

That diver is Maddy Smith, a freshman biology major and member of the Lawrence swimming and diving team. It’s been a thrill, she said.

“I get to do diving in a different way, a more artistic way,” Smith said.

In the second to final scene, she’ll be on the board for seven dives. The biggest challenge, she said, is slowing everything down.

“They’ve been talking to me about how I need to slow down all of my dives and just kind of listen to the beat of the music and just go through it all at a slower tempo.”

Trial and error

Dempster said he had his doubts when Forestieri first broached the water opera idea. He had to go into the water to convince himself it was doable.

“Gabe was working with dancers and bringing them to the pool in Middlebury,” Dempster said. “The question was, can I make sound underwater or even play the cello underwater? So, I messed around with that, and eventually figured out that, yes, it kind of works. After a bunch of experimenting and reading and doing research, I found you can buy a hydrophone, something that would be used by a marine biologist to record whales or sounds of marine life, and you can use this to record playing underwater.

“I have this cheap cello, or strange-looking box cello, as I call it, that when you dunk it underwater, it still has enough air in it to create a resonator, so when I play on this hydrophone, it makes a sound of some kind. Definitely not like a regular cello. It has a very watery kind of sound.”

Safe to say, this isn’t like any cello recital you’ve been to.

“It very much has the effect of performance art,” said Dempster, an Appleton resident who teaches at Lawrence, has a private cello studio, and is a guest artist at Renaissance School for the Arts. “We wear our tuxedos and get in the water. There are always these different things happening. It evolves into a thing with singers and percussionists and trumpet players.”

Dancers use float belts as they rehearse for "Breathe" in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool.
Dancers use float belts as they rehearse for “Breathe” in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool. The water opera is set for 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Not all of the instruments are getting wet, of course. Some are played above the water. There’s even a kayak in one scene. Much of the musicianship and dancing takes place on the deck or on the water, but almost every cast member ends up in the water at some point, and the entire pool is basked in dramatic lighting.

The audience — restricted to no more than 250 or so because of limitations of the space — is encouraged to move around during the performance, best to experience a variety of angles.

“It’s really about transforming the space,” Paek said. “Gabriel’s hope is that people will go into the space and feel it and experience it differently. Even if they go swimming there every day, they’ll be aware and present in a new way.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge as showtime draws near has been getting in the needed rehearsals. This performance, as you might expect, comes with its own set of challenges.

“We can only rehearse when there are lifeguards,” Dempster said.

WATER OPERA

What: Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (March 30-31)

Where: Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool at Lawrence University

Admission: Free, but reservations are required by calling the Lawrence Box Office at 920-832-6749. Access is limited to about 250 people per performance.

Much-anticipated performance of Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ ready to open

Lawrence Opera Theatre’s presentation of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” runs from Thursday through Sunday at Stansbury Theater. Here’s what you need to know before you go. Tickets are available via the Lawrence Box Office

Image from video interview with Robert SchleiferA Lawrence University production of Leonard Bernstein’s highly acclaimed “Mass” will be staged this week with a significant twist.

The much-anticipated production by Lawrence’s Opera Theatre Ensemble, led by Copeland Woodruff, the award-winning Director of Opera Studies and Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence, will incorporate a Deaf character played by professional Deaf actor Robert Schleifer.

“My inspiration was two-fold — the obvious metaphor of our current society, where people have a difficult time listening to one another, and the inclusion of community members who might not necessarily attend an opera,” Woodruff said.

American Sign Language (ASL) and Pidgin Signed English (PSE) will be used throughout the production. Twenty-one members of the student ensemble have spent weeks learning to communicate in sign language.

There’s a lot to unpack with this production, opening Thursday (Feb. 14) and running through Sunday (Feb. 17) at Lawrence’s Stansbury Theater.

A cast member gets makeup applied before rehearsal.
Actors prepare for Tuesday’s dress rehearsal of “Mass.”

First, there’s the staging of a production as wide-ranging as “Mass,” which was both acclaimed and controversial when it debuted in 1971 and is being presented now as part of the world-wide celebration of Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

Woodruff and his ensemble are collaborating with members of two local children’s choirs to reimagine Mass, structured like a Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass but mixing sacred and secular texts and music. The celebrant leads the ceremony, and the Deaf character is the voice of the congregation challenging the celebrant. They argue and search for answers to universal questions together—their diversity highlighted by an eclectic blend of blues, rock, gospel, folk, Broadway, jazz, hymnal, Middle Eastern dance and orchestral music. Ultimately, they affirm the value of faith and hope for peace.

“Distinctive productions like Mass provide students with a rich educational opportunity to practice being a singer-actor, hone full-bodied communication skills, as well as develop appreciation and respect for the experience of others,” Woodruff said. “We hope that students will learn that the arts can be a powerful vehicle for personal and societal awareness and change.”

Actors on stage use sign language during dress rehearsal.
Sign language is used in real time throughout the production.

That speaks to the addition of Schleifer’s Deaf character, a statement on the difficulties we have in communicating when ideological differences come between us, be it political, religious or otherwise. It’s also a nod to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities and the daily struggles they endure.

“The use of ASL and PSE underscores the struggle to communicate, particularly between Deaf and hearing communications and within the Deaf community itself,” Woodruff said.

Community connections

Woodruff has a track record of partnering with community groups to examine socially relevant issues through opera. Members of the production team hope Mass will reach more than 2,000 people in the Fox Valley, many of them from the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

“It is rare — even at the national level — for a signed opera to be produced and performed,” Woodruff said. “The majority of our area’s theater-going public would not ordinarily experience this type of performance. Mass will open dialogues about faith and inclusion to our community.”

Besides Schleifer, Kristine Orkin, a local interpreter for the Deaf, and two professional vocal/style specialists are participating in the production. Schleifer, along with Lawrence student performers, will sign most of the opera’s lyrics in real-time during the performance. Deaf audience members also will be able to read supertitles.

Lawrence student Erik Nordstrum, who shares the main role of the celebrant with Aria Minasian, said he has learned a lot about himself through his work on the production.

“Through working on this piece, I realized that I have not been listening to other people, or to myself, as intently or as consistently as I would like to, and that so many human failures stem from a failure to communicate,” he said.

Minasian, meanwhile, has taken lessons from members of the Deaf community she’s interacted with in the lead-up to the production.

“Learning about the Deaf community and applying it to the show has been awesome,” she said. “I’ve also found challenges with figuring out how to be a female celebrant in a Roman Catholic church setting. This show has a lot to unpack and many different ways it can be presented and interpreted, leaving a lot to the performers and production team.”

Religious conversations

Congregants from four Fox Cities faith communities have used this production of Mass as a vehicle to talk about how we communicate – or more likely, don’t communicate – when it comes to our differences.

“The Mass is this touchpoint for us,” said Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life at Lawrence.

Morgan-Clement’s office has been collaborating with Woodruff to bring together public conversations about Mass. She led a discussion at First Congregational United Church of Christ that included participants from that congregation as well as Memorial Presbyterian Church, First English Lutheran Church and the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. It was a chance to talk about our often jumbled and conflicting faith journeys and the barriers that keep us from communicating effectively. The arts — and in this case, Bernstein’s Mass — can be used to engage people in conversations they might not otherwise have.

“It gives people a touchpoint around which to come together,” Morgan-Clement said. “It’s not just let’s get together and talk about the ways we don’t talk.”

This production provides a plethora of jumping off points in that conversation.

There’s the modern music, the discord, the journey of doubt playing out on stage, all crashing into the deep traditions of a Catholic mass. It provides an avenue for discussion of our differences and our similarities.

“So, it opens up this moment in today’s time for people to talk about the ways in which we … are still being human together, sharing this earth, a lot of commonality in our emotional framework and the ways we operate,” Morgan-Clement said. “And in what ways do the symbols and the language get in our way of actually hearing each other?”

‘Touches my soul’

For Schleifer, the blending of opera with sign language is powerful and moving.

Robert Schleifer performs on stage during dress rehearsal.
Robert Schleifer performs in a dress rehearsal of “Mass.”

“My love of opera is longstanding, its visual language fascinating — depicted through conductor wand gyrations, the energetic dance of bodies fused with instruments in orchestral rhythms, singers’ storytelling through facial expression and movement and breathing strength — the power I see touches my soul,” he said.

Bernstein’s Mass – full title is Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers — debuted in 1971 after the famed composer was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to compose a piece for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Seeing it unfold on an LU stage come Thursday night with sign language being incorporated throughout will be an emotional moment for Schleifer.

“Bernstein’s Mass project has been both a challenging and awesome experience,” he said, “from the sound of the music itself and the abstract concepts portrayed through tone and inflection, which I cannot hear, relying on facial and body cues, figuring how to match American Sign Language with operatic language, to the awesome collaboration with Copeland and Kris, who helped me understand the complexities of poetic language, appreciate the culture of opera, and together watch the beautiful magic unfold.”

On stage

What: Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 through Saturday, Feb. 16; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17

Where: Stansbury Theater, Lawrence University, Appleton

Cost: $15 ($8 for seniors and non-LU students; free for LU students and staff)

Contact: 920-832-6749,  boxoffice@lawrence.edu, or buy online

 

 

Collaboration on ‘Mass’ brings public conversations on faith, communication

Linda Morgan-Clement and Copeland Woodruff see an opportunity for conversation.

About faith. About no faith. About shared experiences and differing ideologies. About inclusion. About the barriers that keep us from talking freely about our own cluttered spiritual journeys.

Students practice using American Sign Language
Lawrence University students learn American Sign Language in preparation for the production of “Mass”.

With Lawrence University Opera Theatre presenting in mid-February a much-anticipated retelling of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, featuring a Deaf character and the use of sign language, there is a window in which to engage people in conversation about how we communicate — or better yet, don’t communicate — on those often uncomfortable topics.

“The Mass is this touchpoint for us,” said Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life at Lawrence.

Morgan-Clement’s office is collaborating with Woodruff, the award-winning Director of Opera Studies and Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence, to bring together public conversations about Mass, a production that was both acclaimed and controversial when it debuted in 1971 and is being presented now as part of the world-wide celebration of Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

Mass will be staged Feb. 14-17 at Lawrence University’s Stansbury Theater.

Congregants from Memorial Presbyterian Church, First English Lutheran Church, First Congregational United Church of Christ and the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will take part in the public conversations.

The first session is a talk led by Morgan-Clement from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, February 6 at First Congregational UCC, 724 E. South River St., Appleton. Participants will then be able to sign up to attend a dress rehearsal of Mass at Stansbury Theater and will have the opportunity to purchase reduced-price tickets to one of the performances. They also will be able to participate in a post-performance talk back with cast members.

Portrait of Linda Morgan-Clement
Linda Morgan-Clement

The opera, with its use of a Deaf character and the incorporating of American Sign Language (ASL) and Pidgen Signed English (PSE), provides an interesting opportunity to talk about how we communicate and the barriers we often put up, Morgan-Clement said.

“Part of what (Woodruff) is doing is trying to bring it into the contemporary world, so he will be using a Deaf actor for kind of a metaphor for thinking about how we communicate,” she said.

The arts — and in this case, Bernstein’s Mass — can be used to engage people in conversations they might not otherwise have.

“It gives people a touchpoint around which to come together,” Morgan-Clement said. “It’s not just let’s get together and talk about the ways we don’t talk.”

There is so much to unpack with this production that the conversations come naturally.

“It’s the Mass, which was so controversial in its own time,” Morgan-Clement said.

The modern music, the discord, the journey of doubt playing out on stage, all crashing into the deep traditions of a Catholic mass. It provides an avenue for discussion of our differences and our similarities.

“So it opens up this moment in today’s time for people to talk about the ways in which we … are still being human together, sharing this earth, a lot of commonality in our emotional framework and the ways we operate,” Morgan-Clement said. “And in what ways do the symbols and the language get in our way of actually hearing each other?”

Important dialogue

Woodruff often looks for community partnerships as he uses opera to explore a range of socially relevant issues. With Mass, the incorporation of a Deaf character provides an opportunity for engagement with the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, discussion of language and culture issues in those communities and a wider dialogue surrounding communication barriers that often hamper conversations on spiritual topics.

In addition to the collaboration with the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, Lawrence students are taking part in community engagement activities, including a performance of selections from the opera at Appleton’s Edison Elementary School, which serves both Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students.

Members of the production team say the opera could reach as many as 2,000 people in the Fox Valley.

“It is rare — even at the national level — for a signed opera to be produced and performed,” Woodruff said. “The majority of our area’s theater-going public would not ordinarily experience this type of performance. Mass will open dialogues about faith and inclusion to our community.”

Woodruff and the Lawrence University Opera Theatre Ensemble are partnering with members of two local children’s choirs to reimagine Mass, which is structured like a Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass but mixes sacred and secular texts and music. The Celebrant leads the ceremony, and the Deaf character is the voice of the congregation challenging the Celebrant. They argue and search for answers to universal questions together — their diversity highlighted by an eclectic blend of blues, rock, gospel, folk, Broadway, jazz, hymnal, Middle Eastern dance and orchestral music.

Through the production, the characters seek a new path to shared communication, exploring how we can hear each other despite our differences.

Ultimately, they affirm the value of faith and a desire for peace.

That’s the path Morgan-Clement is looking to explore in the session that kicks off the conversation on Feb. 6.

“It just makes sense for us to see whether there are things we can or would like to do together,” she said of the collaboration with the Opera Theatre team.

Incorporating sign language

The production of Mass features a professional Deaf actor, Robert Schleifer, as well as a local interpreter for the Deaf, Kristine Orkin. Schleifer, along with Lawrence student performers, will sign most of the opera’s lyrics in real time during the performance. Lawrence students have been getting training in using ASL. Deaf audience members also will be able to read supertitles.

For Schleifer, the blending of opera with ASL is powerful and moving.

“My love of opera is longstanding, its visual language fascinating — depicted through conductor wand gyrations, the energetic dance of bodies fused with instruments in orchestral rhythms, singers’ storytelling through facial expression and movement and breathing strength — the power I see touches my soul,” he said.

“Bernstein’s Mass project has been both a challenging and awesome experience, from the sound of the music itself and the abstract concepts portrayed through tone and inflection, which I cannot hear, relying on facial and body cues, figuring how to match American Sign Language with operatic language, to the awesome collaboration with Copeland and Kris, who helped me understand the complexities of poetic language, appreciate the culture of opera, and together watch the beautiful magic unfold.”

Bernstein’s Mass debuted in 1971 after the famed composer was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to compose a piece for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Opera has been an integral part of the Lawrence voice program for almost 60 years, a centerpiece of the performance opportunities for voice students. Under Woodruff’s direction, Lawrence’s mainstage operas have received national awards, including Hydrogen Jukebox (2017) and The Beggar’s Opera (2016), which shared first prize for the American Prize in Opera Performance in the college/university division. Le comte Ory (2018) and The Beggar’s Opera also received first place from the National Opera Association; Hydrogen Jukebox received third place in the same competition. Woodruff was also named the 2018 recipient of the American Prize’s Charles Nelson Reilly Prize for stage direction.

Lawrence’s production of Mass is supported by grants from 91.1 The Avenue and the Jewelers Mutual Charitable Giving Fund and the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The Office of Spiritual and Religious Life is able to co-sponsor the production and public conversation through the Hurvis endowment.

Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers will be performed February 14-17, 2019, in Stansbury Theatre on the Lawrence University campus. More information, including ticket information, can be found at go.lawrence.edu/massopera.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect the date change for the public conversation on faith and communication. Due to the extreme cold weather, it was moved from 5:30 p.m. Jan. 30 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 6. All other details remain the same.

Exploring Communication Through Opera

Lawrence opera students utilize sign language in new conception of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.”

Lawrence University Conservatory of Music student rehearse ASL for the upcoming opera, "Mass."
Lawrence University Conservatory of Music students rehearse ASL for the upcoming opera, “Mass.”

Twenty-one members of the Lawrence University Opera Theatre Ensemble spent two weeks over their winter break learning American Sign Language (ASL). Why would opera singers need to know ASL?

In a twist on the original production of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers, award-winning Director of Opera Studies and Associate Professor of Music Copeland Woodruff has incorporated a Deaf character into the production, resulting in an exploration of communities breakdowns when opposing sides work to understand each other and move forward together. Performers will utilize ASL, as well as Pidgin Signed English (PSE), throughout the performance.

“The use of ASL and PSE underscores the struggle to communicate, particularly between Deaf and hearing communications and within the Deaf community itself,” says Woodruff of his decision. “My inspiration was two-fold: the obvious metaphor of our current society, where people have a difficult time listening to one another, and the inclusion of community members who might not necessarily attend an opera.”

Woodruff has a track record of partnering with community groups to examine socially relevant issues through opera. Mass is no exception. He is working with local partners to explore options for community engagement and dialogue about the history of the Deaf community in the U.S. and the world, as well as Deaf language and culture. In tandem with the show, Lawrence students will take part in planned community engagement activities, including a performance of selections from of the opera at Appleton’s Edison Elementary, which serves both Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students.

Members of the production team hope that the opera will reach roughly 2,000 people in the Fox Valley region.

“It is rare—even at the national level—for a signed opera to be produced and performed,” said Woodruff. “The majority of our area’s theater-going public would not ordinarily experience this type of performance. Mass will open dialogues about faith and inclusion to our community.”

Robert Schleifer, professional Deaf actor, Kristine Orkin, local interpreter for the Deaf, and two professional vocal/style specialists are participating in the production. Schleifer, along with Lawrence student performers, will sign most of the opera’s lyrics in real-time during the performance. Deaf audience members will also be able to read supertitles.

As a part of the world-wide celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, Woodruff and the Lawrence University Opera Theatre Ensemble will collaborate with members of two local children’s choirs to reimagine Mass, which is structured like a Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass but mixes sacred and secular texts and music. The Celebrant leads the ceremony, and the Deaf character is the voice of the congregation challenging the Celebrant. They argue and search for answers to universal questions together—their diversity highlighted by an eclectic blend of blues, rock, gospel, folk, Broadway, jazz, hymnal, Middle Eastern dance, and orchestral music. Ultimately, they affirm the value of faith and hope for peace.

“Distinctive productions like Mass provide students with a rich educational opportunity to practice being a singer-actor, hone full-bodied communication skills, as well as develop appreciation and respect for the experience of others,” said Woodruff. “We hope that students will learn that the arts can be a powerful vehicle for personal and societal awareness and change.”

Erik Nordstrum ’19, who shares the main role of the Celebrant with Aria Minasian ’19, has learned a great deal about his personal beliefs throughout his work on the production.

“Through working on this piece, I realized that I have not been listening to other people, or to myself, as intently or as consistently as I would like to, and that so many human failures stem from a failure to communicate,” Nordstrum said.

“I’d say some of the most challenging things are also the most enjoyable,” adds Minasian.

“Learning about the Deaf community and applying it to the show has been awesome. I’ve also found challenges with figuring out how to be a female Celebrant in a Roman Catholic Church setting. This show has a lot to unpack and many different ways it can be presented and interpreted, leaving a lot to the performers and production team.”

Opera has been an integral part of the Lawrence voice program for almost 60 years, a centerpiece of the performance opportunities for voice students. Under Woodruff’s direction, Lawrence’s mainstage operas have received national awards, including Hydrogen Jukebox (2017) and The Beggar’s Opera (2016), which shared first prize for the American Prize in Opera Performance in the college/university division. Le comte Ory (2018) and The Beggar’s Opera also received first place from the National Opera Association; Hydrogen Jukebox received third place in the same competition. Woodruff was also named the 2018 recipient of the American Prize’s Charles Nelson Reilly Prize for stage direction.

The production is supported by grants from 91.1 The Avenue and the Jewelers Mutual Charitable Giving Fund and the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers will be performed February 14-17, 2019, in Stansbury Theatre on the Lawrence University campus. More information, including ticket information, can be found at go.lawrence.edu/massopera.

Conservatory Hits High Notes with an Awards-Filled November

By Savvas Sfairopoulos ‘19

A scene from the opera "Le comte Ory"The Lawrence University Conservatory of Music clinched an impressive list of awards this November, with major wins at opera and voice competitions. Lawrence University placed first in Division 4 of the National Opera Association’s Best Opera Production 2017-2018 for their production of The Count Ory. The French comedic opera by Rossini was staged in March under the instruction of Director of Opera Studies Copeland Woodruff. Opera studies also had a strong showing in the musical theater division of the Collegiate Opera Scenes Competition, making it to the finals. In addition to the impressive group performances, Jack Murphy ’21 of Neenah, Wis., and Nysios Poulakos ’21 of Iowa City, Iowa, will be competing at the NOA National Conference in Salt Lake City in the January in the musical theatre division, performing a scene from Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s Spring Awakening.

In more exciting news for Lawrence opera, Anna Mosoriak ’19 of Highland, Ind., won a Metropolitan Opera National Council Encouragement Award. The MET Opera National Council is the most prestigious competition in the United States for young singers; the Encouragement Award is presented to singers who, though they do not advance to the next round of the competition, show promising talent.

The list of accomplishments for the Conservatory continues, with 10 Lawrentians earning accolades in a huge showing at the annual Wisconsin Chapter of the National Association of Teachers and Singing (NATS) competition held Nov. 3-4 at UW-Whitewater.

Kyree Allen ’22, Washington, D.C.: First place men’s first-year college classical division.

Clover Austin-Muehleck ’19, San Francisco, Calif.: First place women’s fourth-year college classical division.

Emily Austin ’21, Washington, D.C.: First place women’s third-year college classical division.

Nick Fahrenkrug ’20, Davenport, Iowa: First place men’s third-year college classical division; this is Nick’s third straight NATS title.

Alex Iglinski ’19, Muskego, Wis.: Second place men’s third and fourth-year musical theatre division.

Hannah Jones ’22, Houston, Texas: First place women’s first-year college classical division.

Baron Lam ’21, Galesburg, Ill.: Second place men’s second-year college classical division.

Emma Milton ’21, Muskego, Wis.: Second place women’s second-year college classical division.

Jack Murphy ’21: First place men’s first and second-year musical theater division and first place men’s second-year college classical division.

Sarah Scofield ’21, West Lafayette, Ind.: First place women’s second-year college classical division.

The NATS competition features 28 separate divisions grouped by gender and level. Depending upon the category, competitors are required to sing two, three or four classical pieces from different time periods with at least one selection sung in a foreign language. This year’s showing builds on Lawrence’s winning tradition at NATS; Lawrence singers have regularly taken first-place honors in a competition that draws hundreds of singers from around the state.

Copeland Woodruff wins national opera directing award, two LU productions also earn top honors

Copeland Woodruff
Copeland Woodruff

In baseball parlance, Lawrence University has swept a prestigious doubleheader in the annual American Prize Performing Arts competition.

Copeland Woodruff, director of opera studies and associate professor of music at Lawrence, has been named the 2018 recipient of the American Prize’s Charles Nelson Reilly Prize for stage direction. Selected from among 15 national semifinalists, he was honored for his work on Lawrence’s 2017 production of Philip Glass’ “Hydrogen Jukebox.”

American Prize hailed Copeland as “a champion of improvisation, musical and physical, in the operatic medium as a tool for education, creation and performance.”

Additionally, Lawrence’s opera productions “The Beggar’s Opera” and “Hydrogen Jukebox” shared first-place honors for the American Prize in Opera Performance in the college/university division.

Lawrence’s two productions were chosen from among 15 reviewed operas. Lawrence was competing against several institutions with graduate programs, including Yale University, University of Wisconsin-Madison. and Oklahoma State University.

Scene from the opera "The Beggar's Opera"
Lawrence’s 2016 production of “The Beggar’s Opera” tied for first-place honors with the college’s production of “Hydrogen Jukebox” in the American Prize in Opera Performance in the college/university division

In announcing Lawrence as this year’s performance winner, American Prize said “Recent productions have garnered national attention because of their well-crafted and dedicated musical and dramatic performances.”

Copeland said being honored as the first recipient of the newly-named Charles Nelson Reilly Prize was “daunting.”

“I admired Reilly as a child and met him in the early 1990s while I was on staff at Santa Fe Opera,” recalled Woodruff. “His acting classes were packed and like nothing I had ever seen before. To be mentioned with a man who lived his amazing life proudly and among many of the world’s great talents, is a blessing I never anticipated, but am over-the-moon about.”

Copeland credits Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, who hired him in 2014 as the university’s first director of opera studies, for offering him “the chance to dream.”

“The Charles Nelson Reilly Award recognizes Copeland’s outstanding achievements as an artist, director, and educator. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this singular honor.”
— Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music

“Lawrence has been the epitome of environments to teach, learn, develop craft and struggle to tell difficult, funny, frightening, loving, messy human stories on stage,” said Woodruff.  “I have been a very lucky man to do what I love for a living and feel luckiest being able to work with unbelievably generous colleagues and students whom I also see as colleagues. Lawrence is fertile soil with dedicated gardeners. I’m humbled and inspired each day.”

Pertl called winning the American Prize for two separate opera productions “a rare and momentous occasion.”

“It speaks to the incredible strength of the Lawrence Opera program, our outstanding students and especially our world-class faculty,” said Pertl. “From the moment Copeland Woodruff walked through the doors of our conservatory, we all knew that he was a creative visionary who would build an opera studies program that would give our students the opportunity to receive not only exceptional opera training but also the opportunity to create art at the highest level.

“The Charles Nelson Reilly Award recognizes Copeland’s outstanding achievements as an artist, director and educator,” Pertl added. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this singular honor.”

Woodruff’s Reilly Prize honors the memory of Charles Nelson Reilly, the Tony Award-winning actor for his 1962 portrayal of Bud Frump in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Broadway stage director, acclaimed opera director and acting teacher.

Woodruff joined the Lawrence faculty after spending six years as co-director of opera activities at the University of Memphis, where he earned four first-place National Opera Association Best Opera Production Awards. In addition to directing Lawrence’s annual main stage opera production, Woodruff has launched a series of “micro-operas” that examine socially relevant issues and are performed at non-traditional locales.

Lawrence’s production of Philip Glass’ “Hydrogen Jukebox” shared top honors for this year’s American Prize in Opera Performance, college/university division, along with Lawrence’s production of “The Beggar’s Opera.” in Opera Performance in the college/university division.

The American Prize honors are only the latest accolades for Woodruff. His 2016 mainstage production of “The Beggar’s Opera” was awarded first-place honors by the National Opera Association while his 2015 production of “The Tender Land” earned second-place honors in the NOA’s Best Opera Production competition. “The Beggar’s Opera” also was named “Best of Local Productions” from among 164 productions in both local and professional categories by WFRV-TV arts critic Warren Gerds.

Other awards during Copeland’s tenure include first-place honors for seven students in the 2015 Collegiate Opera Scenes competition held at the NOA’s national convention in Indianapolis, Ind., and his first two micro-operas — “Expressions of Acceptance” and “Straight from the Hip,” which addressed issues of gun presence/gun awareness in the community — earned third-place recognition in the NOA competition, competing against standard opera performances.

Founded in 2009 and based in Danbury, Conn., the American Prize is a series of non-profit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances by ensembles and individuals each year in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Lawrence faculty members promoted, granted tenure

Three members of the Lawrence University faculty have been granted tenure appointments and a fourth has been promoted to the rank of full professor by the college’s Board of Trustees.

Kurt Krebsbach has been promoted from associate professor to full professor of computer science. Celia Barnes in the English department, Alison Guenther-Pal in the German department and Copeland Woodruff, director of opera studies and associate professor of music, have been granted tenure. Barnes and Guenther-Pal also were promoted from assistant to associate professor.

“I’m delighted to welcome a new faculty member to the elevated rank of professor and to congratulate our three newest tenured colleagues,” said Catherine Gunther Kodat, provost and dean of the faculty. “Lawrence sets a high bar for faculty achievement, requiring demonstrated excellence in teaching, scholarship, creative activity and service. These faculty have enhanced our community immeasurably, introducing our students to new ideas and fresh perspectives on long established truths and enriching the intellectual and artistic life of the university. I look forward to working with them for many years to come.”

Kurt Kresbach
Kurt Krebsbach ’84

Krebsbach, whose research interests include artificial intelligence, multi-agent systems and functional programming, returned to Lawrence in 2002 as a faculty member, having earned his bachelor’s degree from Lawrence as the university’s first mathematics-computer science major.

He has made research presentations and technical reports at more than three dozen professional conferences in his career. A member of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence since 1987, Krebsbach spent time in 2009 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland as a Masters of Informatics Scholar.

Prior to joining the faculty, Krebsbach spent seven years as an artificial intelligence researcher at Honeywell Laboratories in Minneapolis. He also taught two years in the math and computer science department at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.

After graduating from Lawrence, Krebsbach earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Minnesota.

Celia Barnes
Celia Barnes

Barnes joined the Lawrence English department faculty in 2010 as a visiting assistant professor before receiving a tenure-track appointment the following year. Her scholarship focuses on how18th-century writers conceived of their own place in literary history. She is particularly interested in re-examining the familiar image of the professional author who writes alone and always with an eye to publication into one where writers and readers are actively and sociably engaged in an interactive process of creating text.

In addition to teaching courses such as “British Writers,” Revolutionary 18th Century” and “Gender and Enlightenment,” Barnes has collaborated with colleagues to team-teach the interdisciplinary English/physics course “Newtonian Lit: Chronicles of a Clockwork Universe” and the English/philosophy course “Enlightenment Selves.”

Barnes directed an elementary composition program at Indiana University and spent a year on the faculty at California Lutheran University before coming to Lawrence. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from The College of William and Mary with a bachelor’s degree in English and earned a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in 18th-century British Literature from Indiana University.

Alison Gunther-Pal
Alison Gunther-Pal

Guenther-Pal began her career at Lawrence in 2007, first with a three-year appointment in German and film studies through the university’s Postdoctoral Fellows program, then as visiting assistant professor and finally as a tenure track assistant professor. In addition to teaching in the German and film studies programs, she also teaches courses in gender studies.

Her scholarship interests span German cinema, 20th-century German culture, feminist film theory, queer theory and popular culture, especially stardom and fandom. Her primary research focuses on the representation of homosexuality and queerness in cinematic, scientific, lay and literary texts during the Konrad Adenauer era of post-World War II Germany.

Guenther-Pal was honored with Lawrence’s Young Teacher Award in recognition of “demonstrated excellence in the classroom and the promise of continued growth” in 2017 and was the 2015-16 recipient of the university’s Mortar Board Award for Faculty Excellence.

She studied in Germany at the University of Göttingen and the Free University of Berlin before earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and the University of California, Santa Cruz. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Germanic studies from the University of Minnesota.

Copeland Woodruff
Copeland Woodruff

Woodruff was named Lawrence’s first director of opera studies in 2014 after spending six years as co-director of opera activities at the University of Memphis. In addition to directing Lawrence’s annual main stage opera production, Woodruff has launched a series of “micro-operas” that examine socially relevant issues and are performed at non-traditional locales. His first, “Expressions of Acceptance,” featured 13 short operas simultaneously staged throughout the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, including stairwells, bathrooms, the bar areas and even elevators. The production tied for third place in the 2015-16 National Opera Association’s Division 1 Best Opera Production competition.

In 2016, his “Straight from the Hip,” was performed at The Draw, a local art gallery. The production examined the issue of gun presence and gun awareness in the community through a series of nine mini-vignettes. His 2017 production, “Is That a Fact,” explored facts, and possibly, their alternative-fact counterparts.

Woodruff’s 2016 mainstage production, “The Beggar’s Opera,” was awarded first-place honors in by the National Opera Association. Under his direction, Lawrence also was recognized in 2015 with first-place honors in the undergraduate division of the Collegiate Opera Scenes competition and earned second-place honors in the NOA’s Best Opera Production competition for “The Tender Land.”

He earned a both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree in stage directing for opera from Indiana University.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

 

 

Rossini comic opera “Le comte Ory” comes to Stansbury Theatre March 1-4

The stage of Stansbury Theatre will be transformed into Formoutiers, France, circa 1200, for Lawrence University opera studies’ production of Gioachino Rossini’s “Le comte Ory” (“Count Ory”).

Four performances of the French comedic opera will be staged March 1-3 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee show March 4 at 3 p.m. Tickets, at $15 for adults, $8 for students/seniors, are available through the Lawrence Box Office, 920-832-6749. The production will be performed in English.

A scene from the opera "Le comte Ory"
Countess Formoutiers (Anna Mosoriak ’19) reads a letter informing her the town’s men are returning from fighting the Fourth Crusade as Isolier (left, Emily Austin ’20), Alice (Annie Mercado ’18) and Ragonde (Lorna Stephens ’18) look on. Photo by Ken Cobb.

For his first and only French comedy, Rossini borrowed liberally from the popular vaudeville and burlesque shows that used satire to expose the corruption and the dying strains of the noble class and church-ordained rule.

Religious piety and taboo, along with a dose of gender-bending and cross-dressing, lead to situations worthy of the opera’s roots in burlesque and farce.

Written in 1828, the plot follows the attempts of the notorious gadabout Count Ory to seduce the Countess Formoutiers, whose brother has joined the town’s other able-bodied men to go off and fight in the Fourth Crusade, leaving her in charge. The countess creates a safe haven for the noble war widows inside the castle, barring all men from entering its walls.

Outside the castle, and hiding behind the power of the church, Count Ory disguises himself first as a hermit and later as a nun in his seduction efforts. But the disguises are thin and he is unmasked before he is able to complete his conquest.

Copeland Woodruff, Lawrence’s director of opera studies, calls “Le comte Ory”
“a product of its time.”

A scene from the opera "Le compe Ory"
Luke Honeck ’19 portrays Count Ory (left) while Erik Nordstrom ’19 (center) plays his friend, Raimbaud, and Alex Quackenbush ’19 (right) sings the role of the Tutor. Photo by Ken Cobb.

“The dissolution of the nobility was in flux in post-Revolutionary France, as well as in the rest of Europe, including Rossini’s native Italy,” said Woodruff. “Monarchs in Spain, Italy and France were half-heartedly supporting constitutional monarchies with varying percentages of power shared with appointed and elected parliamentary houses.

“While all the history and context is fairly heavy, the mode of theatricality stays at home in vaudeville with broad farce as its engine,” he added. “The designers, cast and artistic team have worked to find an environment that pays homage to theatrical traditions appropriate to the burlesque style of the piece.”

In the double-cast production, which runs 135 minutes with one 15-minute intermission, junior Luke Honeck, Achorage, Alaska, shares the role of Count Ory with Benjamin Boskoff, a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music. Senior Clio Briggs, Moretown, Vt., and junior Anna Mosoriak, Highland, Ind., each sing the role of Countess Formoutiers.

The role of Isolier, Ory’s page, is sung by sophomore Emily Austin, Washington, D.C., and senior Martha Hellermann, Shorewood. Juniors Nathan Brase, Salem, Ore., and Alex Quackenbush, Sun Prairie, share the role of the Tutor.

Sophomore Nick Fahrenkrug, Davenport, Iowa, and junior Erik Nordstrom, St. Paul, Minn., sing the role of Raimbaud, Ory’s friend.

Ragonde, a companion to Countess Adele, is sung by senior Lorna Stephens, Blue Hill, Maine, and junior Clover Austin-Muehleck, San Francisco, Calif.  Senior Annie Mercado, Des Plaines, Ill., and senior Charlotte Noble, Traverse City, Mich., share the role of the peasant girl Alice.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

 

“Consummate artist” Sasha Cooke performs in Lawrence Artist Series concert

Grammy Award-winning mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke brings her versatile repertoire and love of new music to the stage of the Lawrence Memorial Chapel Saturday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. in the second concert of Lawrence University’s 2017-18 Artist Series.

Tickets for the performance, at $25-30 for adults, $20-25 for seniors, $18-20 for students, are available through the Lawrence Box Office, 920-832-6749.Sasha Cooke sitting in chair

Cooke, the 2010 winner of the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award, has performed works of Gustav Mahler to great acclaim on four different continents. Hailed as “equal parts poise, radiance and elegant directness” by Opera News, Cooke has become a highly sought-after talent by many of the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies and chamber music ensembles.

Steven Spears, a voice professor in Lawrence’s conservatory of music, calls Cooke “one of a handful of current singers who defines the phrase ‘consummate artist.’”

“One only needs to scan her biography to have a snapshot of music history,” said Spears.  “At such a young age, Sasha has literally done it all – early music with Baroque expert Sir Harry Bicket to pieces where the ink isn’t even dried yet by innovative composers of contemporary vocal music such as John Adams and Nico Muhly. Her languages are excellent, technique top-notch, but those are nothing compared to the beauty and richness of her voice and her superior skills as an actor.”

Cooke earned a Grammy Award in 2012 for her work on the Metropolitan Opera recording of “Doctor Atomic,” an opera that examines the stress and anxiety experienced by the scientists involved with the development and initial test of the first atomic bomb. “Doctor Atomic” has been a work featured in Lawrence’s Freshman Studies program.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

 

 

John Holiday gives encore recital at the Kennedy Center as Marian Anderson Vocal Award winner

The journey from Rosenberg, Texas to the stage of one of the most famous performance venues in the country has been a “yellow brick road of blessings” according to John Holiday.

The countertenor and first-year assistant professor of voice at Lawrence University from that small, southeast Texas town will find himself in the spotlight of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Thursday, Feb. 15 for an encore recital as the winner of the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award in January 2017.

John HolidayFirst conducted in 2002 to honor the personal and humanitarian achievements of one of the most acclaimed singers of the 20th century, the Marian Anderson Vocal Award celebrates “excellence in performance by recognizing a young American singer who has achieved initial professional success in the area of opera, oratorio, or recital repertory and who exhibits promise for a significant career.”

“You cannot imagine how overwhelmed I was,” Holiday said of winning the award. “In previous years, I eagerly watched, with awe-struck eyes, singers receive the award, hoping and praying that I would one day be able to join their ranks.”

Like a student cramming for finals, Holiday is “fervently preparing” for his recital, which will feature works by Francis Poulenc, Reynaldo Hahn, Margaret Bonds, and others, what he calls “music that I love, in hopes that, even if for a brief moment, I can bring some beauty into the world with my artistry.”

Anne Midgette, chief classical music critic for the Washington Post, has called described Holiday as “an impressive figure on an opera stage. He’s one of the sweetest-voiced countertenors I’ve encountered, with a mellifluous sound supported by clean crisp diction” while the New York Times hailed him as “an exceptional singer with a strong voice, even in its highest range.”

Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, calls the multi-interested Holiday “a perfect fit for Lawrence.”

“At home on the opera stage, a jazz night club, soloing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic or teaching his students at the conservatory, John Holiday is one of the most versatile vocalists around,” said Pertl. “We couldn’t be happier that John decided to join our outstanding voice department.”

Because the recital means so much to him, Holiday admits to some nervousness as the performance draws near.

“I am lucky enough to know that those nerves really mean that I am excited,” said Holiday, who also received a $10,000 prize as the winner of the Anderson vocal award. “Any time that I’m on stage, I cherish each moment, so it’s never just another performance. It’s an opportunity to get to share what I love to do with a room full of beautiful people.

John Holiday smiliing“Marian Anderson opened so many doors for me and countless other African-American artists and allowed us to stand boldly in our art. I hope that, in some small way, I am able to do the same thing she has done for me for this next generation of artists and educators.”

Prior to his recital, Holiday will participate in a short residency at the opera workshop program of Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts where he will lead a masterclass.

“I believe it is important for one to lift others up as they climb up, so I am eagerly looking forward to sharing and spending time with these bright-eyed students,” said Holiday, who joined the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty last fall. “When I look out into the audience on February 15th, I look forward to seeing the light in their eyes, and I hope they can can see mine and feel the gratitude for all of the love, support and encouragement throughout the years.”

Two past Marian Anderson Vocal Award winners include mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke (2010), who will perform at Lawrence on Feb. 24 as part of the university’s Artist Series concert program, and tenor Lawrence Brownlee (2006), who sang here as part of the 2015-16 Artists Series.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.