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MSU Opera Workshop presents 'Speed Dating, Tonight!'

First performed here in 2015, Michael Ching's popular one-act opera makes a second appearance Saturday, November 4 — with much help and encouragement from the composer himself.

Dr. Ann Marie Daehn, head of the Opera Workshop program in the Missouri State University Music Department, visited with Randy Stewart on "Arts News" to discuss three upcoming events, two of them involving contemporary opera composer Michael Ching.

The Opera Workshop first performed Ching's popular one-act comic opera "Speed Dating Tonight!" in 2015, two years after it premiered.

"Part of its charm is that, now, it's a completely different version," Dr. Daehn said. "He has over 90 possible characters."

They can be put together in any order or combination, any gender, any voice type the director and the singers desire.

"And he can put them in any key!" The student singers essentially cast themselves after reading through the libretto last spring," said Dr. Daehn. "And everybody is a star."

The opera is based, of course, on the "speed-dating" concept where participants meet someone new every five minutes to see if they hit it off or not. In less than 90 minutes on stage and with a cast of 25 singers, the audience will meet numerous characters very briefly. Among others, Dr. Daehn said the audience would meet someone whose lover has died; a kleptomaniac; a person who enjoys dressing up as different animals; a very insecure person; another who identifies as having a "screen disorder--I can't stop looking at my phone." There's also a bassoonist in a symphony orchestra. Dr. Daehn also promises a special "hysterical" cameo appearance by one of her music department colleagues — Dr. Paula Patterson.

What becomes clear is that speed-dating is NOT a first choice for anyone trying to find that "special someone." "The stakes are high," Daehn says. And five minutes is an awfully short time to get to know someone well enough to feel like you're making a personal connection with a fellow speed-dater.

Dr. Daehn says she even went to a speed-dating event back when she lived in New York City -- or rather, she was dragged to the event by a friend. While Michael Ching wrote both music and text for the opera, apparently he himself has never experienced speed-dating first hand, said Dr. Daehn.

"The concept actually came from a colleague named Dean Anthony."

And over the years, a lot of the opera's characters were suggested by opera companies and university opera departments that have produced the opera.

As for musical styles in "Speed Dating Tonight!", Michael Ching "incorporates a bit of everything," says Dr. Daehn. You'll hear sounds reminiscent of musical theatre, operetta, a bit of a bossa nova feel, a bit of Kurt Weill. Ching, she said, "is really great at synthesizing so many different styles and using those to help us get the know the characters very quickly."

Because Michael Ching continues to revise "Speed Dating Tonight!", Dr. Daehn said it's "never done." When she saw Ching at a convention last January and told him she was reviving the work this fall, he told her there were a lot of changes from when she last directed it in 2015. Ching came to Springfield and spent four hours a day for three days here, working individually with some 25 student singers in this production.

There will be a single performance of Michael Ching's "Speed Dating Tonight!", on Saturday, November 4, at 7:30 p.m. in C Minor Recital Hall, located inside Ellis Hall on the Missouri State campus. Come as you are. The opera is suitable for all ages, and there is no admission charge.

Michael Ching will return to Springfield on Thursday, November 16, when the MSU Opera Workshop will participate in a workshop session, singing through Ching's new opera, "Notes on Viardot," an opera about opera singer Pauline Viardot (1821-1910). Viardot was famous in her day not only as a singer but as a composer and pedagogue. (She came from a musical family. Her father was the great Spanish tenor and singing teacher Manuel Garcia.) This workshop performance will be also free and open to the public, as well, starting at 6 p.m. in C Minor Recital Hall.

"[Ching's] so invested in the development of young singers," said Daehn. "And I'm always so proud of our students, and I love when other people love them like we do."

Viardot was "THE diva of her time," said Dr. Daehn. "She spoke, like, five languages. She was also composing. She was a genius who hung out with Charles Dickens, Turgenev, Chopin, the brilliant people of the day. This opera is based on letters that were exchanged, and it's set up as a reporter interviewing Pauline about her life. There's also [a depiction of] a young Pauline.

"We're going to do it concert style, since it's a reading and still a work in progress. You'll get a chance to see Michael. I suspect he'll talk a little bit about the whole process of creating this new piece," said Daehn. "We're going to workshop Act II for him and a bit of Act III. I believe the premiere for it will be in the spring [of 2024, at University of South Dakota-Vermillion]. This is a really important moment for him, to hear it sung for the first time."

And Daehn had news that the guest-artist recital by soprano Dr. Miracle Amah from the music faculty of Bradley University (Peoria, IL), originally scheduled for October 30, has been moved to Wednesday, November 8, at 7:30 p.m. in C Minor Recital Hall. Among the works on her program will be a piece by John Carter as well as numerous works by composers from Dr. Amah's home country of Nigeria.

"And she has commissioned many of these songs," added Dr. Daehn. "I was not familiar with this [musical] literature, and some of these composers are 23 and 24-years-old. You really get a sense of what is happening in living music in another part of the world. We're just really lucky that she's coming down and is going to work with our students. So, we have very full weeks of learning and working with people who are really deep in the craft."

Dr. Amah's recital will be free and open to the public.

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job has evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assists volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He's also become the de facto "Voice of KSMU" in recent years due to the many hours per day he’s heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.