Original opera gives new meaning to ‘surround sound’
Portraying an Irish singer in an 18th century Austrian pub, Carthage junior Nick Huff found himself surrounded by a 21st century Wisconsin audience. As in literally surrounded.
In a departure from the typical theatrical seating arrangement, the crowd at the Nov. 10, 2013, “Mozart is Dead” production stretched around the performers from three sides. The layout provided a more intimate setting.
“The audience feels like they’re in the pub with the characters,” said director Matt Boresi, an adjunct professor of music theatre.
For many of the students, this was their first taste of the immersive style of opera. Prof. Boresi admitted it can be a challenge, initially, for students to adapt when they’re used to performing on a stage. But he pointed out the style allows them to act more naturally and conversationally.
“They can face the person they’re speaking to. They can walk to the chair they’re headed to,” Prof. Boresi said.
An original production, “Mozart is Dead” was the culmination of a fall semester Opera Workshop course led by Professor Gregory Berg. It’s one of several opportunities that Carthage students have to perform and direct. The Music Theatre and Opera Program sponsors five musicals and two operas each year.
For Nick, a music major (vocal performance emphasis) from Kenosha, the show was his fifth at Carthage. He played Michael Kelly, an Irish tenor who collaborated with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Set in a Vienna pub in 1792, the year after Mozart’s death, the production was constructed around some of the composer’s most popular operas. The class gleaned dialogue among the characters — Mozart’s family members and peers — from historical letters and accounts.
Students researched their own characters. In the process, they pieced together clues to understand what motivated them and how they would have interacted with other characters.
“It was fun to dig through letters from Mozart’s life,” Nick said. “A lot of times, you walk into a scenario and they say ‘This is your character. Do X-Y-Z.’ This way, you’re invested in the characters a lot more.”
Faculty members said a student who expands his repertoire in a unique production like “Mozart is Dead” will benefit in the long run. The works may continue to be classical, but Prof. Boresi said “opera is becoming more contemporary in its stylings and its sound all the time.”
The audience, too, was able to experience opera from a different vantage point. Featuring both poignant and funny moments, the performance was designed to take advantage of the immersive seating.
“It’s a non-conventional way to do what we often do in a conventional way,” said Prof. Berg, who teaches music courses and assists with Carthage’s opera program. “We were aiming for it to be emotionally rich.”