Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Modern opera shows off students’ vocal, acting talents

sMatt Binter Students practice during the first dress rehearsal for “The Hotel Casablanca” Monday night in Nichols Hall.

Months of preparation will pay off as the cast of “The Hotel Casablanca” takes the stage for opening night tonight.
“The Hotel Casablanca” is a comedic opera set in Texas in the 1940s and revolves around the interactions of guests at the Double T Ranch, owned by wealthy couple Tom and Tallulah Carter.
The opera, which first premiered five years ago, was written by Thomas Pasatieri and is a contemporary opera based on the farce, “A Flea in Her Ear,” by Georges Feydeau.
Reginald Pittman, director of the K-State opera program and associate professor of music, became interested in the opera after a friend of his, who is also an opera singer, recommended it to him.
“When I read that it was a comedy, and it was set in Texas in the 1940s, well, I grew up there, so that interested me,” he said. “The reviews were good and I enjoy doing contemporary opera in this intimate space in the Nichols Theatre.”
Auditions for the opera began in last fall around November. After being cast, students were given scores and expected to work on their music independently. When the spring semester started the cast jumped right into rehearsing for the next six to seven weeks.
Pittman said he is careful to select an opera that provides enough of a vocal challenge for his cast, which is mostly made up of undergraduate students.
“This is very much an ensemble show; there are only nine cast members and they all have good roles,” he said. “There are different types of characters so it stretches our singers acting-wise as well as provides a vocal challenge.”
Sam Brinton, senior in mechanical and nuclear engineering and vocal music performance, and Drew Hansen, sophomore in architectural engineering and music vocal performance, are double cast in the role of Tobias, the manager of the ranch. They will alternate nights playing the character.
Hansen said Pittman sometimes casts two students for a role, especially with a smaller cast, to give other students a chance to use their vocal talents.
Brinton said Pittman knows his students pretty well through his music classes and casts them in roles that fit their voices and personalities.
The actors said their characters really come to life during the week of dress rehearsal where most of them are seeing their outfits for the first time.
Cassity Mitchell, senior in music education, plays Lucy, Tallulah’s former vaudeville partner, who she describes as a silly, goofy character who tries to make everybody laugh. She said the week of dress rehearsal is really exciting because the students get more into character.
“Once you get into costume and makeup, everyone’s character comes to life,” she said.
This was certainly true for Brinton, who said he was playing his part a little more on the sophisticated side and did not really capture the character until he saw his costume.
“It’s insane!” he said. “Leather fringe jacket, hat twice as big as my head, pants that go up to his chest, a very comic based look.”
aPittman said everything has come together in the last couple of weeks from sets, lighting and props to costumes and makeup.
Mitchell said she is anticipating the performances for the night ahead.
“Opening night is great because you have your first audience, and you’re hoping they’ll laugh when you want them to laugh, and you can get a good feel of the audience,” she said.
The Hotel Casablanca opens tonight at 7:30 in Nichols Theater and will also be presented Thursday through Saturday at the same time with a matinee performance at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Matt Binter Students practice during the first dress rehearsal for “The Hotel Casablanca” Monday night in Nichols Hall. 

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