By Brandon Mennenoh
“Banish sorrow, banish care; Grief should ne’er approach the fair.” Those were the first words sung by the 13 talented Central College students who met at 9:30 a.m. on January 11 to begin rehearsing for a production of the opera “Dido and Æneas.”
Ever since day one, it has been a bonding experience for the cast. I can still remember all the excitement around the Cox-Snow Music Center when the cast list was posted back in November. The excitement continued on January 11 when the cast met for a continental breakfast before the first morning rehearsal. We hadn’t seen each other since the fall semester ended. We spent most of the morning digging into all the big chorus numbers.
After a lunch break, it was time for our first dance rehearsal. It was two hours of dancing and laughing at ourselves and each other. Even as rehearsals continue, there are still moments of laughter and confusion if we mess up a dance, followed by high fives and cheering when we finally get it right.
“I didn’t even think about auditioning at first because I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in well with the other cast members,” says sophomore Tori Hollingsworth, who is portraying the character of Belinda. “But from the very beginning it was nice to be a part of this group. Rehearsals are enjoyable because of how much fun everyone has together. Working together to make good music that has a good story is an experience I’m very grateful to be a part of.”
Preparations began for the opera back in October when students were invited to a viewing of the opera at van Emmerick Studio. For the audition, students had to prepare a song in the classical style to perform for the director Anne Petrie, professor of music, and Mark Babcock, associate professor of music, who is serving as choirmaster for the show.
In the opera, Dido, queen of Carthage, is struggling with her emotions because the Trojan hero, Æneas, has entered her city, and she is trying to overcome her feelings for him. Encouraged by her chambermaid Belinda to give in to the powers of love, she lets Æneas pursue her. Little do the characters know, there is an evil sorceress who is plotting the downfall of Dido and the burning of Carthage.
Sophomore Grace Hove, who plays the Sorceress, says the cast works well together. “Each of us contributes differently to the group, but together we form an epic opera team. I have fun dancing with everyone and singing together. This show is so rich, and the choreography adds so much. I can’t wait to perform it in front of an audience.”
Petrie says that the last time Central performed a full opera was in the fall of 1987 when the music department staged Menotti’s “Amal and the Night Visitors.” Since that time, the department has performed smaller operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan, such as “The Mikado,” “Pirates of Penzance,” and “H.M.S Pinafore.” Periodically students have participated in opera workshops, where they performed scenes from several operas.
“It is good for students to get their hands on opera,” says Petrie. “Most operas are hard to do with a strictly undergraduate cast because they make pretty significant demands on the voice. The benefit of doing an entire opera is getting the sense of what the singing style is like but also the dramatic trajectory.”
Petrie says that rehearsals are going very well so far. The show will be performed Feb. 16 and 17 in the Chapel, and rehearsal time was limited, to be conscious of the fact that students are involved with other activities.
“We wanted something that was doable but would not take over people’s lives,” says Petrie. “This is an opera that does not require a lot of bells and whistles or lots of special effects and elaborate staging, and I think we are on track with it.”
The choreographer, Cynthia Prickett Beschel, is a native of Indianola, Iowa, and earned a degree in dance from the University of Iowa. She has danced professionally all over the world, including Des Moines, Las Vegas, San Francisco, France, Monaco, Ireland and Wales. “One of the last items on my ‘dance bucket list’ was to choreograph and/or work with a college,” says Beschel. “So I am thrilled to be here and working with the fantastic cast and professors at Central!”
Junior music major and theatre minor Mackenzie Uhlenhopp, who will be singing the role of Dido, says that being in the opera is a very different experience from any of the previous musicals she has participated in at Central. “The opera is a wonderful opportunity for someone like me who is not often able to collaborate with such musicians,” she says. “We are a devoted group with whom I am happy to work. I think if we all continue to work hard we can create a magical and entertaining show that all will enjoy.”
Feb. 16 – 7:30 p.m. Upper Chapel
Feb. 17 – 4 p.m. Upper Chapel
Call 641-628-5236 to reserve free tickets.