Hillman Opera ‘Beatrice and Benedict’ slated for late November release on YouTube

Lisa Eikenburg
copy of opera poster

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

The production of “Beatrice and Benedict” will be available starting Nov. 27 on the School of Music’s YouTube channel, noted opera producer and Fredonia alumnus Dr. Robert Strauss of the School of Music. More information will be released on the School of Music website and the Hillman Opera Facebook page as the production is completed and edited. The opera is largely based on Shakespeare's play "Much Ado About Nothing."

The goal is to provide students with a challenging and rewarding experience, along with entertaining its online audience.

The Hillman 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 and supplemented some years with faculty and alumni, unlike operas performed by music programs at other colleges, which often include master’s and doctoral students. The Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance typically provides experiences for students in stage design, costuming, lighting and direction.

The work, by Hector Berlioz, is being performed for the first time as a Hillman Opera, sung in an English translation by Amanda Holden, and due to COVID-19 restrictions was not performed with an orchestra, but instead accompanied by School of Music pianist and voice faculty member Shinobu Takagi. Dr. David Rudge served as music director, and Department of Theatre and Dance faculty member Daniel Lendzian was stage director. Megan Kuhnel, a student in the Department of Theatre and Dance, served as stage manager. Graduate student Adina Martin was chorus master.

There is a cast of 16 singers including Vocal Performance, Music Education, Music Therapy, Applied Music and Bachelor of Fine Arts Musical Theatre majors, and the chorus was a one-on-a-part group of singers. The major roles were double-cast and smaller, single cast. Non-singing roles were performed by chorus members. The role of Beatrice was sung by Katie Cymerman and Grace Mingoea, and Benedict, by Tyler Huk and Robert Kleinertz.

Each of the major cast members were brought into the university’s recording studio to create an audio track – with not more than three people at a time in the studio. Anything larger than a duet necessitated cast members recording “karaoke-style” to a pre-recorded track of their castmates. Also necessary was allowing extra time in the recording studio for its air to “refresh.” Fredonia Sound Recording Technology students edited the audio tracks.

For the video shoots for musical “numbers,” each cast member came in one at a time to lip sync to the rough edits of the audio, filmed by Mr. Lendzian. The dialogue was filmed on Zoom, and the entire production was put together and edited by Strauss.

The list of Hillman Operas over the years 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 opera has received a grant to support the production from the Oliver G. and Sarah Sloan Bauman Fund for the Arts administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. 

The Hillman Memorial Music Association also provides vital support for the opera through the Fredonia College Foundation, as well as student scholarships. Gugino and Ryel Financial is again the event sponsor.

Those interested in supporting the Hillman Operas can give online or contact the Fredonia College Foundation at (716) 673-3321.

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