Beginning Friday, April 19, a multitude of diplomats, elegant ladies, hopeful suitors, fortune hunters, can-can dancers and no small amount of flowing champagne and fabulous costumes will fill the stage of Memorial Hall for Chapman University’s staging of the operetta The Merry Widow. Unseen will be the troop of faculty members from the College of Performing Arts’ Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music. They’re the ones who are coaching, directing and teaching the student cast right up to the first opening curtain. Operettas, with their energetic marriage of music and dance, require many skill sets, from choreography to voice coaches, says Peter Atherton, DMA, associate professor and artistic director of the production. “Putting on an opera just takes so many experts and so many specialists and especially so for an operetta,” Dr. Atherton says.
Even Dale Merrill, dean of the College of Performing Arts, signed on as the choreographer for the Franz Lehar production set in turn-of-the-century Paris. “It’s been fun getting to help them explore movement. Movement is an important part of an opera singer’s training. And they discovered that waltzing is a lot harder than it looks,” Dean Merrill said. Students say the rigorous interaction with faculty is a matchless experience. “They can help you in every aspect — acting, music, singing, musicality. They’re like colleagues,” says Duke Kim (’15), who plays Count Camille de Rosillon. “They’re collaborative. So I don’t feel like I’m hearing orders. I feel like they’re trying to pull out something from me. We’re creating the opera with them.”
Other principal faculty leading the production are Stephen Coker, DMA, associate professor and director of choral activities, as conductor, and operatic soprano Carol Neblett, an artist-in-residence and voice instructor, as associate director. The Merry Widow will be staged Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 21, at 3 p.m. Dialogue will be in English, with songs sung in German and accompanied by projected English translations. Tickets are $15 to $20 and available at the box office or by visiting the CoPA website. Other faculty and staff working on this production include: David Alt, DMA, assistant director; Don Guy, lighting design; Erick Barker, scenic designer/artist; Laure Dike, Costume Designer; Pat Cavins, costume shop manager; Cheryl Fielding, DMA, adjunct faculty, musical director; Janet Kao, DMA, adjunct faculty, principal coach; Jennifer Kelly, production manager; Ruther Brunner and Peg Oquist, wardrobe construction; Katie Wilson, hair and makeup artist; Paige Fodor and Erin Moses, wardrobe shop assistants; and Anna Butler and Madison Lanesey, student costume crew.
Opera Chapman is part of the conservatory’s vocal performance major, in the College of the Performing Arts. Inaugurated in 2001, the program has graduated alumni who now perform with some of the finest opera companies in the world, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Opera.