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‘Made in the U.S.A. — A Celebration of American Opera’ Sunday

By

Gregory Berg

February 06, 2020

Bennet Shebesta ’22 (left) and Faith Albright ’22 (right) performing a moment from John Phill...Bennet Shebesta ’22 (left) and Faith Albright ’22 (right) performing a moment from John Phillip Sousa's “El Capitan.”A world premiere of a brand new one-act opera will serve as the grand finale for this year’s J-Term Opera Workshop presentation, “Made in the U.S.A. — A Celebration of American Opera,” at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 9, in the Recital Hall. “Birds of a Feather: A Magic Flute Sequel” is the second opera composed by Carthage’s own Gregory Berg, associate professor of music and coordinator of Carthage’s Opera Workshop. While his first opera, “Black September,” was a very dramatic and ultimately tragic work (based on the infamous terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics), this new opera is a light-hearted comedy that still contains an important message of its own.

Prof. Berg’s new opera follows up on the “Magic Flute” character of Papageno, an energetic bird catcher who spends most of that opera in search of a female counterpart who can become his wife as well as the mother to a houseful of children. “Birds of a Feather” begins with an abridged version of the Papageno and Papagena love duet from Mozart’s original opera before jumping ahead a few years to tell the story of the complications that ensue when their youngest children are not inclined to follow their parents’ expectations about what boys and girls are supposed to do and be. “This is not meant to be a thorough or sophisticated examination of the complexity of gender identification,” said Prof. Berg, “but this sweet and simple story may very well prompt the listener to reflect on the harm that we do to the people we love when we force them to conform to our ideas about who they should be.”

Katrina Seabright '22 (left) and Cory Pollard '20 (right)Katrina Seabright '22 (left) and Cory Pollard '20 (right)

Prof. Berg said that his primary inspiration for the opera sprang from the tragic death of a Carthage student named Ray Watson, who was killed in an accident in December of last year. Mr. Watson had been a participant in two different opera workshop productions, which is why it felt so right to dedicate this opera and its world premiere to his memory. “Ray Watson certainly knew better than most of us do how important it is to be true to who you were created to be,” said Prof. Berg. “I hope that he would appreciate the message of this opera.”

Katrina Seabright ’22 (left) and KD Daly ’20 (right) performing an excerpt from “Tartuffe.”Katrina Seabright ’22 (left) and KD Daly ’20 (right) performing an excerpt from “Tartuffe.”Birds of a Feather” was especially crafted for the five students enrolled in this year’s J-Term Opera Workshop, and the students have developed a powerful bond through the course of working on this project. “We are a small but mighty clan,” said soprano Katrina Seabright ’22. “We have become exceptionally comfortable with each other, allowing us to display a genuine connection to tell our story on the stage.” The other students comprising the cast are KD Daly ’20, Faith Albright ’22, Bennett Shebesta ’22, and Cory Pollard ’20.

Both the story and score were written by Prof. Berg, but the score contains a number of references to melodic themes from Mozart’s original opera. “’Birds of a Feather’ has a contemporary sound,” said stage director Allison Hull, “yet hides little Easter eggs of ‘The Magic Flute’ in the score, paying homage to Mozart but finding its own personality.”

Prof. Berg’s 20-minute chamber opera serves as the finale for a program that will include arias, duets, and trios from an array of American operas by such American composers as Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber.

The performance is free and open to the public.