UI Music Department to present two one-act operas at the Englert


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A disparate look at dysfunctional marriage sets the scene for this pair of one-act operas.

Placed in New York suburbia in the 1950s, "Amelia Goes to the Ball" and "Trouble in Tahiti," do not portray the typical "hearts and flowers" relationship but rather a cynical and comical look at love.

These two American operas will take the stage at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. Performances will continue through Feb. 3 with a 2 p.m. show. Admission is $5 for UI students with valid IDs, $10 for youth, $15 for seniors, and $20 for the general public.

"Amelia Goes to the Ball" follows the life of a young woman who is desperate and will stop at nothing to attend the first ball of the season.

But her plan goes awry when her husband discovers a letter from the "lover" and forbids Amelia to attend the ball.

Kaitlin Shewmake, a second-year graduate student in vocal performance who plays the role of Amelia, said her biggest challenge was working with a character who is made to be a villain by other members of the production.

"It's a challenge to not judge your own character because then you can't give an honest portrayal of the person," Shewmake said. "So you have to think how [the character] might rationalize what she's doing."

It took a lot of digging in the fictional mind of Amelia before Shewmake felt she could work with the comedic aspect of the opera.

She does believe, however, it is an important element to the story, which allows the audience to see the "ridiculous" side of things.

"I think that when we are dealing with some of the more complicated issues like infidelity and domestic abuse, it enables us all to handle them from a lighter side," she said. "The laughter enables us to kind of address those morality issues without getting too heavy."

While "Trouble in Tahiti" doesn't exactly involve infidelity, it does follow the unhappy marriage of Sam and Dinah, who are striving for the American Dream.

Nick Miguel, a second-year graduate student in vocal performance, took on the character of Sam, who he describes as the 1950s picture-boy husband.

The only catch is, Sam is not a nice guy, and many of the troubles in his marriage are his fault.
"I think it's more of a cultural upbringing that he doesn't quite know how to have a relationship with his wife or other people that isn't domineering," Miguel said.

Besides the complicated characterization, one distinct aspect to both of these operas is they will be sung in English, something Miguel enjoys.

"There's an immediate connection you have to the language, and you know how things are inflected," Miguel said. "As a challenge, there are higher standards for your audience in terms of being able to understand it."

Opening the lines of communication with the audience members and making sure they are able to understand the language was a necessity for the director, Visiting Assistant Professor Laura Johnson.

"As a director, you are always thinking about what you want the audience to experience," she said. "An audience familiar with Italian can appreciate that sound but might miss some nuances. But if you can help the audience by putting it in their language so they understand the story, then that's what I would like."

To further the audience's opera experience, the Englert will also project "super titles" above the stage, where the full text will be printed to ensure audience members won't miss any jokes.

"Once [the audience members] see both works, they might scratch their heads about why I'm calling 'Trouble in Tahiti' a comedy," Johnson said. "But in some way, at the end of each of these operas, life goes on for all of the characters, and they do have a comic point of view."

Winter Operas: "Amelia Goes to the Ball"/"Trouble in Tahiti"
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Feb. 3
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $5 for UI students with valid IDs, $10 for youth, $15 for seniors, and $20 for the general public

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