Sep 272013
 

reflector

By  NATALIE SAYEWICH

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The East Carolina University Opera Theater program is backing away from the somewhat abrasive types of programs they embraced in the 2012-2013 school year to perform a program that is a little easier on the ears.

From left to right: Olivia Johnson playing Maurya, Ashton Humphrey as Bartley, Kimberly Watson as Cathleen and Carolina Vaughan playing Nora in the East Carolina University Opera Theater presentation of Riders to the Sea. Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)

From left to right: Olivia Johnson playing Maurya, Ashton Humphrey as Bartley, Kimberly Watson as Cathleen and Carolina Vaughan playing Nora in the East Carolina University Opera Theater presentation of Riders to the Sea. Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)

After exploring darker territory with two contemporary operas last year, John Kramar looked to the early 20th century to find the pieces for the fall program, “Tales of Love and Loss from the British Isles,” which will be performed Saturday and Sunday.

“Last year we did ‘Lizzie Borden,’ which is very gritty and kind of harsh music and then we did a world premiere in the spring called ‘Insectophobia,’” Kramar said. “That, again, was very thorny.”

“Maybe as a reaction to the sort of atonality of last year, we wanted to do something that was lyrical and beautiful all the time.”

The program includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Riders to the Sea” and scenes of Edward Elgar’s “The Spanish Lady,” Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes” and Vaughan Williams’ “Hugh the Drover.”

The combination of several different pieces for a performance is something that ECU hasn’t done in more than a decade, according to Kramar. Programs often do a “themes” performance, typically with piano accompaniment for more inexperienced singers, but this program differs in that the singers are more advanced and there is an orchestra for all of the scenes. The advantage to choosing this type of performance is that Kramar and the conductor were able to tailor it to complement the program’s strongest singers.

“I try to look to see our more advanced singers and who needs a good opportunity to have an operatic showcase and then I go from there to try to find pieces that will feature them,” Kramar said.

This year, that meant finding a piece for three talented female students — senior Olivia Johnson and juniors Kimberly Watson and Caroline Vaughan — along with something fitting for promising tenors Ashton Humphrey and Kyle Nielsen.

Johnson’s performance will be her first playing the leading role.

“She has risen to every challenge,” Kramar said. “She has this beautiful nobility about her and has taken the role so seriously, doing all the background homework herself.”

Opera enthusiasts may remember seeing Vaughan on the stage as a child. The Greenville native made her ECU opera debut with a small speaking part in the program’s production of “Green Eggs and Ham.”

“It’s great to see her develop into a beautiful singer,” Kramar said.

Each of the pieces for the program were written between 1925 and 1945 by British composers. Kramar decided on “Riders to the Sea” for the second half of the performance, preceded by a selection of scenes from other operas for the first half.

“I thought ‘Riders to the Sea’ was just such a perfect piece for these singers that it was just crying out to be performed,” Kramar said. “It is an interesting dramatic challenge on how to sustain sadness and grief over like a 45-minute period before you get to the resolution. These people have really done a beautiful job with that.

“Since the second half is very sad, I attempted to make the first half less sad. The first half has some comic themes, a little bit of reflective music and ends with a really beautiful love duet.”

“All of the music, but especially the Vaughan Williams music, it’s just absolutely beautiful. I say all the time, ‘Vaughan Williams never wrote an ugly note.’ There isn’t a second that goes by that isn’t just completely overwhelmingly beautiful.”

Contact Natalie Sayewich at nsayewich@reflector.com or 252-329-9596.

via The Daily Reflector.

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