Hillman Opera ‘Beatrice and Benedict’ slated for fall

Lisa Eikenburg
A scene from the 2019 Hillman Opera production of Cendrillion.

A scene from the 2019 Hillman Opera production of “Cendrillion.”

The 2020 Hillman Opera, produced each year by the Fredonia School of Music in conjunction with the Hillman Memorial Music Association, is breaking new ground with a unique production in an online format.

The exact format and timing (most likely in November) will be announced later in the semester, noted opera producer and Fredonia alumnus Dr. Robert Strauss of the School of Music. The goal is to provide students with a challenging and rewarding experience, along with entertaining its online audience.

The opera, presented nearly annually since 1956 and usually during the fall, is considered special due to the fact that the majority of the major roles are performed by undergraduate students, unlike operas performed by music programs at other colleges, and supplemented some years with faculty and alumni. The Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance provides experience for students in stage design, costuming, lighting and direction.

“Beatrice and Benedict” by Hector Berlioz will be performed by the first time as a Hillman Opera at Fredonia. It will be sung in an English translation by Amanda Holden, and due to COVID-19 restrictions will not be performed with an orchestra, but instead accompanied by School of Music pianist and faculty member Shinobu Takagi. Dr. David Rudge is music director/conductor, and Department of Theatre and Dance faculty member Daniel Lendzian will serve as stage director. Megan Kuhnel, a student in the Department of Theatre and Dance, will serve as stage manager.

There will be a cast of about 20 singers including Vocal Performance, Music Education, Music Therapy, Applied Music and Bachelor of Fine Arts Musical Theatre majors, and the chorus will be a one-on-a-part group of singers. The major roles are double-cast and smaller, single cast. Non-singing roles will be performed by chorus members. The role of Beatrice will be sung by Katie Cymerman and Grace Mingoea, and Benedict, by Tyler Huk and Robert Kleinertz.

Technical details of the production are still being developed, and could include cast members recording themselves using pre-recorded piano tracks, or the cast being recorded with appropriate distancing in King Concert Hall, or some combination of the two – with the end result completed by video editing.

More information will be released on the School of Music website and the Hillman Opera Facebook page as November draws near.

The list of Hillman Operas is impressive in its scope and depth, with not too many repeats over 60-plus years, ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan romps like “The Pirates of Penzance” and the holiday favorite, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” to Benjamin Britten’s challenging “Albert Herring.”

The Hillman Memorial Music Association provides vital support for the opera through the Fredonia College Foundation, as well as student scholarships. Those interested in supporting these efforts can give online or contact the Fredonia College Foundation. Also providing important support for the opera is the Oliver G. and Sarah Sloan Bauman Fund for the Arts administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.  

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