Missouri State University Opera presents a double bill next weekend: two operas—two women with a choice. Dr. Ann Marie Daehn, Assistant Professor of Voice and Director of MSU’s opera program, stopped by our “Arts News” program to give us the details.
“We’re doing two operas—and in Italian, which is a first for us,” says Dr. Daehn. “Our casts are largely undergrads. We have some of the most talented undergrads in the nation—they’re regularly winning these national awards. And I thought, ‘I’m really going to push ‘em and see what we can do.’ And it’s been really fun. They have to dig a little deeper into the characters—they have to think about every single word that they’re singing.”
The double bill consists of Rossini’s one-act comedy “Il Signor Bruschino,” and Handel’s dramatic opera “Imeneo,” as abridged by Dr. Daehn, cut to a running time of just over an hour. The original “Imeneo” score runs about two and three-quarter hours. “I have singers who excel at that repertoire, and I thought it would be really fun to have them do an entire character in that repertoire, and not just an aria.”
The Handel opera, says Dr. Daehn, centers around the female character Rosmene. She and her sister (or confidant) Clomiri are abducted by pirates. Rosmene’s lover, Tirinto, hasn’t a clue as to where the young women are or how to rescue them. “But this handsome fellow from another kingdom, Imeneo, finds the girls on this pirate ship, rescues them, and brings them back. And all he asks for his reward is (Rosmene’s) hand in marriage.” Rosmene’s father Argenio thinks that’s a great idea—but of course this places Rosmene in an awkward love triangle. Unlike many Handel operas, “Imeneo” has a small cast—five principals. And what Dr. Daehn tells is basically the entire storyline. Well, there is the matter of Clomiri, who sadly gets ignored by both men.
As for “Signor Bruschino,” Dr. Daehn says, “What I love about Rossini is the chance for the comedy and the voices to just fly in those wonder ‘patter’ numbers, group singing where everyone’s moving as fast as their little lips will carry them!” At first, her student cast members were aghast when looking at the score: “Will we ever be able to get up to the tempos that we’re hearing on recordings?!” “And I said, ‘Oh, absolutely you will!’ And now they’re cruising through it and able to have fun.” Dr. Daehn has been able to turn directing duties for “Bruschino” to one of her students, Bridget Pollack. “They’re just having a marvelously fun time.”
(We didn’t manage to get into the plot of “Bruschino” during this interview, but to briefly sum it up: a young couple want to get married, but the girl’s guardian forbids it. In fact, he’s already promised the girl’s hand to the son of his friend Signor Bruschino. On his way to meet the girl for the first time, Bruschino junior gets detained, and the girl’s true love pretends to be him… but then old man Bruschino himself arrives on the scene.)
Dr. Amy Muchnick will lead a chamber ensemble (actually a string quartet with harpsichord) to accompany the singers, and the production will take place in MSU’s recently renovated “C Minor Recital Hall” (formerly Ellis Recital Hall.) I asked Dr. Daehn to describe the changes made to the hall for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
“We’ve only been in it for about a year and a half, so I’m trying to see what the space can do. It’s astonishing.” In place of the gently raked audience seating and raised-up stage area, the new hall design features more steeply-raked seating (“arena” seating, you might call it), and the performing/stage area is now at floor level. “So there’s no bad seat, you’re all just looking down on the players.” The built-in organ pipes along the back wall of the stage are still in place, of course. “We have stunning acoustics—they’ve raised the ceiling up. And so you can just hear a pin drop in there. I keep telling the singers, ‘you can sing the most beautiful pianissimo and no one will miss a word.’ We’re really going to play with the lights; we’ve got wonderful projections of art of the period. And the seats are comfortable. It’s just a wonderful place to be.” Seating capacity is about 185, and Dr. Daehn would like to see the hall filled for both performances.
There are two performances: Friday April 12 at 7:30pm, and Sunday April 14 at 3:30pm. Tickets are $15 general admission, $5 for students. For tickets visit https://missouristate.edu/opera.