UA Music Department showcases American opera


Photo courtesy of UA Opera Theatre

Annabelle Blomeley, Staff Reporter

This Thursday, join the UA Department of Music for their fourth production of the 2019-2020 school year, entitled “A Celebration of American Opera, Part II.” The show includes five different operas, including a world premiere of an opera by Michael Ching.

This Thursday, the University of Alabama Department of Music is hosting “A Celebration of American Opera, Part II,” which showcases five different American operas. The first act includes the first four operas, with the second act being the world premiere of Michael Ching’s “Remove Shoes Before Entering.”

Paul Houghtaling, the director of opera at the University and the producer and stage director of the show, said that his favorite part is being able to give his students different experiences within music and opera.

“We’re an American university, and it’s important to feature our own music,” Houghtaling said. “American opera is more popular than it has been in a quarter of a century, and there’s a lot of composers whose voices deserved to be heard.”

The first opera, entitled “Leo,” was written by Michael Ching and involves a man fighting with his cat until a woman comes home to the mess that has been made.

Evan Fleming, a first-year graduate student in voice performance, said that the most difficult part of his performance is mixing the swing of jazz with the sounds of opera.

“I get to sing the role of the man in ‘Leo’ by Michael Ching, and that gets to open up the night, and it’s a cross between jazz and opera,” Fleming said. “It’s a really funny piece. It’s essentially a large aria where I get to yell at a cat for the better part of ten minutes. It’s very funny, and I find it very exciting for people to see us perform.”

The first act also includes “No More in Darkness,” which is about the life of Alexandra David-Néel and her many adventures dressed as a male, including visiting the Trans-Himalayas in the middle of winter and Tibet’s forbidden capital. 

Megan Saslow, a second-year graduate student in vocal performance, said that it’s important to showcase American opera so that support can be shown to American opera composers and performers.

“Some of the ones that we’re doing are historically based, and so you kind of get the American folk song influences, the Southern influences that you’re never going to find in Italian or French opera because they have their own cultural influences,” Saslow said. “I think it’s just so cool because America is a melting pot and can showcase that via its own art form.”

The showcase also includes “Triangle,” a tragic love story where a man cheats on his wife with a goddess, revealing the situation to be much deeper than the wife ever imagined. After this, “No Ladies in the Lady’s Room” is performed about the women who patented several inventions directly related to the making of the Transcontinental Railroad of 1869.

“I think that the shows we’ve picked, while one of them might be poetically difficult to grasp, it’s almost a performance art for people who prefer that kind of thing,” Saslow said. “We have ‘No Ladies in the Lady’s Room,’ and that one is very easy to grasp and provides a history lesson. Then you have ‘Triangle,’ which is very modern in the sense that it’s so relatable. And ‘Remove Shoes Before Entering’ as well, it’s just people, and each of them have their demons or a memory. It’s almost like watching a movie but with more singing. I just think that if the big lady with the horn is your idea of opera, then this will be something to see to battle that idea.”

The closing opera is the world premiere of Michael Ching’s “Remove Shoes Before Entering,” which is about a group of school kids who are taken on a journey through their memories and experiences after trying on some abandoned shoes in an old building during their field trip.

“I’m really excited for audiences to see the world premiere that we’re doing at Thursday’s show, which is Michael Ching’s ‘Remove Shoes Before Entering,’” Fleming said. “It’s a piece all about empathy and all about experiences and memories and how they affect who we are. Essentially, each character has an experience that they’re remembering, and some of them are positive and some of them are negative, but all of them tie together to make something truly beautiful and powerful to watch and listen to.”

The entire showcase is set to be a diverse collection of American operas that will captivate audiences from the start to the finish.

“The world premiere, Mr. Ching’s work, is profound and dark and moving and sad and therefore, very real,” Houghtaling said. “It’s a very unique thing that we’re doing in ‘Remove Shoes Before Entering’ because it’s so wonderful for students to work with a living composer. All of these composers are living, but Ching has been in residence for a couple of weeks, and students have learned a lot from him, so I’m just excited to share these wonderful pieces that our audiences have never seen. Again, a world premiere is incredibly important, and it’s just a wonderful thing that these young people will remember for their entire life.”