Tonight the Lory Student Center Theater will swell with song, dance and bad 1980s clothing as the CSU’s opera theatre class performs “Susannah”, Carlisle Floyd’s 1955 opera tale of fanatically overzealous church elders persecuting an innocent young girl.
Susannah is decidedly unlike the stereotypical opera image of a plump woman in huge breast plates wailing away while standing atop some craggy cliff. This full-length opera incorporates many contemporary elements, such as tacky clothing from the eighties, and is written and performed in English.
Twentieth century American opera is very similar to the traditional musical, and this one in particular differs only in that dialogue is sung rather than spoken.
Though it is set in rural Tennessee in the early 1900s, Floyd wrote the opera in response to the communist accusations made by Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
Jessica Lesser, junior music major and one of two actresses playing the role of Susannah, advised audience members to “bring Kleenex” due to the show’s somber nature.
The main role of Susannah Polk is so demanding that two sopranos are required for the role. Lesser performs tonight and Saturday and graduate student Aimee Woods will perform on Friday and Sunday.
Despite the difficultly of the main role, “Susannah” is by no means a one-woman show. “Some of the most fun parts of the opera happen with the chorus,” Woods said. Each cast member not only sings but also acts and dances.
The MU 401 students who comprise the cast and have been rehearsing for the show since the beginning of the semester perform to the accompaniment of two pianos rather than the traditional full orchestra. “For the young cast it should be easier to sing over,” said Ryan Sipes, who plays Susannah’s drunken brother Sam Polk.
Sipes, an electrical engineering major is one of many non music majors performing in the show. Though the performance in “Susannah” is a requirement for enrollment, it receives no funding from the university to offset production costs.
Roughly 1000 tickets need to be sold throughout the show’s run in order for it to pay for itself. “It is important to bring people in, have them understand it and want to come back to the opera,” assistant director Britta Risner said. “Opera can be enjoyable.”
While it would be beneficial, profit is not one of shows main concerns; raising on-campus support of the fine arts and forming a student opera club are main goals of “Susannah.” “This really is a student production in every sense of the word,” director Todd Queen said. “I hope that people can come and form a new opinion of what opera really is.”
Students can purchase tickets for shows Thursday through Saturday at a reduced cost of $10 at the Lory Student Center Box Office by calling 491-6444. Adult tickets are $20.