Premiere of student-composed opera to highlight Fredonia’s Opera Scenes

Roger Coda
Students rehearse a scene from "Carmen" in the 1891 Fredonia Opera House.

Students rehearse a scene from "Carmen" in the 1891 Fredonia Opera House.

A new opera featuring music written by three student composers at Fredonia will share the stage with performances of key scenes from three renowned operas at the Student Opera Theatre Association’s annual Opera Scenes production at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House during the first weekend of March.

It will be the first time in recent memory that SOTA has premiered a student-composed piece in this long-running series.

Opera Scenes will be presented on Friday, March 6, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday, March 7, and Sunday, March 8, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, $8 for seniors and $10 for adults and are available at the opera house box office and at the door.

Joseph Buck, a senior Music Performance major from Saranac Lake; Mickie Wadsworth, a junior Music Composition major, with a concentration in Voice, from Queensbury; and Sierra Wojtczack, a senior Music Composition major with a concentration in Strings, from Baldwin, wrote the music for “<o>Respawn_Object_Infinite</o>.”

Kathryn Cymerman, Opera Scenes producer and SOTA vice president, describes the student piece as a three-scene “video game” opera that revolves around three self-aware avatars seemingly trapped within a game. “Each failed attempt at a level reveals further frustrations towards both the game and each other,” Ms. Cymerman explained.

“In some ways the plot is unconventional because the emergence of technology is relatively new in relation to the history of opera. However, the themes explored during the opera are extremely prevalent to today’s society and debates of morality,” explained Cymerman, a senior Music Performance major from Silver Creek in her fourth year with Opera Scenes.

“It’s probably unlike everything that you’ve seen before,” Cymerman added.

Jamie Leigh Sampson and Andrew Martin Smith, adjunct faculty in Fredonia’s School of Music, developed the plot and wrote the libretto, or opera text, and then gave it to the student composers, all members of Ethos New Music Society, to set to music.

SOTA, a Student Association group, stages Opera Scenes with cast members and backstage crews who are all undergraduate students. Fredonia faculty, alumni and current graduate students can serve as directors of the individual opera scenes.

Collin McCrea, who received a Mus.B. in Music Performance, with a concentration in Voice, at Fredonia in 2019, is artistic director of “<o>Respawn_Object_Infinite</o>.” Daniel Barna, a junior majoring in Music Performance from Medford, N.Y., is handling music director duties with supervision from Professor of Voice Joe Dan Harper.

“Performing in an actual opera house, the students get to experience a different venue, which is very valuable,” said SOTA faculty advisor and Associate Professor Angela Haas. “They are very excited.”

Opera Scenes provides a valuable training experience for students before they pursue a full operatic experience found in the Hillman Opera, noted Dr. Haas. The School of Music and Department of Theatre and Dance produce a grand-scale Hillman Opera production every year.

Key scenes from the following operas will be performed at Opera Scenes:

Francis Poulenc’s comic opera “Les Mamelles de Tirésias” (“The Breasts of Tiresias”), a gender-bending, surrealist opera based on the play by Guillaume Apollinaire. SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Julie Newell is artistic director; Wayland Whitney, a graduate student in Music Performance, is music director.

“L’Enfant Et Les Sortileges,” a modern fairy tale about a naughty child at bedtime, by Maurice Ravel. Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies Nestor Goldsmith is artistic director; Adina Martin, a graduate student in Music Performance who received a Mus.B. in Music Education at Fredonia in 2018, is music director.

“Carmen,” about a feminist hero whose wandering spirit will ultimately prove to be her undoing, by Georges Bizet. Two Fredonia alumni are involved in the production. Mariami Bekauri, who received a M.M. in Music Performance at Fredonia in 2018, is artistic director. Sai Ceng, who has a Mus.B. in Music Education, 2015, and an M.M. in Music Performance, with a concentration in Instrumental, in 2017, both from Fredonia, is music director.

SOTA rents the opera house for an entire week to accommodate rehearsals and performances. “I find it very special that they continue to work with us and are dedicated to the Student Opera Theatre Association and to Fredonia students,” Cymerman said. “It’s really an historic place.”

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