The Taylor Lyric Theatre produced an opera in a month
By Hope Bolinger | Echo
If you plan to forge a will in 1299 Florence, you might want to consider one of these easier goals: maintaining a 4.0 GPA, finding a spoon in the DC, riding a unicycle at Taylathon or entering a room on campus that has a reasonable temperature.
Falsifying a will in the middle ages would cost you time, relationships and maybe even fingers (the punishment for forgery). You must deceive doctors and lawyers alike, all while dealing with greedy family members. In fact, only one other task might be harder to accomplish: pulling together an opera in a month.
Taylor Lyric Theatre did both.
At the beginning of J-term, actors started rehearsals for Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Gianni Schicchi” (pronounced SKEE-kee). The story centers around the cunning merchant Gianni Schicchi, played by senior Sean Sele. Schicchi helps the selfish Donati family rewrite a will after the deceased Buoso Donati, played by sophomore Chris Netzley, leaves all his savings to the friars.
During the fall, the cast practiced the opera’s music three hours each week. They only began acting together on-stage during J-term. From day one, the performers faced a number of challenges.
First, the opera was set in an unusual era. Director Conor Angell had a number of production staff members help him evoke the medieval Tuscan setting. Set designer Ryan Maloney (’13) hung elaborate, vibrant drapes to represent Italy’s booming textile industry during the middle ages. After doing research on medical instruments for the incompetent doctor Spinneloccio, played by freshman Tiffany Rogers, technical director and seniorConner Reagan found himself at Jake’s Antiques in Marion:
“There’s a booth with old butcher’s tools, so I grabbed a few meat saws,” Reagan said. “I had a fun time explaining to the people who checked me out that they were opera props for a medieval doctor and not for some other devious purpose.”
The cast also wrestled with scheduling conflicts. Some actors such as freshman Benj Morris spent part of J-term in the Bahamas. “The hardest part was jumping in with the show mostly completed and seeing an entirely different world onstage than when I had left,” Morris said.
Reagan said several of the performers and staff attended the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival during the second week in January. This put most of the set building on hold for a week because no one was around to work.
Finally, the actors had to tackle difficult music.
Puccini wrote a strenuous score, and some of the cast struggled with the timing. Emma Helfgott (’16), who played Buoso’s cousin Zita, grappled with the tricky rhythms.
“It becomes very overwhelming very quickly,” Helfgott said. “However, Puccini also wrote it in such an ingenious way that once you get out of your own head, everything is very speechlike. It falls into place in a way that makes a lot of sense.”
Helfgott stretched herself in more ways than one. Because the performers implemented the exaggerated acting style “commedia dell’arte,” an Italian term meaning “comedy of art,” Helfgott had to heighten her expressions and movements while maintaining good vocal technique.
Despite the challenges, the Taylor University Lyric Theatre performed last weekend, drawing hundreds of audience members. Angell believes the performers’ efforts were well worth the many hours spent:
“I’m proud of the cast for not abandoning a tough project. Every person is going to be a better performer because of this show.”