Opera program presents 'Little Women'

The Glenn Korff School of Music's opera program presents "Little Women" Nov. 11 and 13 in Kimball Recital Hall.
The Glenn Korff School of Music's opera program presents "Little Women" Nov. 11 and 13 in Kimball Recital Hall.

The Glenn Korff School of Music’s opera program will present “Little Women” on Nov. 11 and 13.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11 and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13 in Kimball Recital Hall. Tickets are $20 adults and $10 students/seniors. For advance ticket sales, contact the Lied Center Box Office at (402) 472-4747. Tickets are also available online at http://go.unl.edu/oawi.

The libretto, written by Mark Adamo, adapts Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about four sisters who come of age just after the American Civil War. Adamo’s opera focuses upon Jo March’s resistance to the passage of time.

“Mark Adamo initially had reservations about adapting the story,” said Hixson-Lied Professor and Director of Opera William Shomos, who is directing the production. “When he read the book, he thought its episodic nature was problematic. But he found within it a theme: Jo versus the inevitable forces of change that face all of us in life. That theme became what the opera is ultimately about.”

Patty Kramer, a doctor of musical arts candidate from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plays Jo.

“She is a strong, willful and determined young tomboy with a sharp mind for literature and writing,” Kramer said. “Though her hot temper and overly sarcastic sense of humor often gets her in trouble, her family loves her and she them. Jo finds her life with her sisters perfect and never wants things to change. Even when things do inevitably evolve, Jo fights them every little step of the way.”

Emily Triebold, a master of music in vocal performance major from Madison, Wisconsin, plays Meg, the oldest of the March sisters.

“’Little Women’ is a beautiful story about the bonds of sisterhood, the ability to adapt to change and the struggles that accompany it,” Triebold said. “Our audiences can expect to both laugh and cry at this relatable tale of growing up.”

Krista Lawrence, a master of music in vocal performance major from Laramie, Wyoming, plays Amy.

“In my opinion, Amy is definitely the most fun sister to play. She’s the youngest and has a bit of a temper because she is the pet of the family, adored specifically by her mother. She is also an artist and is hardly ever without a sketchbook or an easel to paint on,” Lawrence said. “Her relationship with Jo is more tense than with the other sisters, specifically because she is infatuated with Jo’s best friend Laurie and jealous of the attention he gives her sister.”

Kate Johnson, a bachelor of music senior from Omaha, Nebraska, plays Beth, the second youngest of the four sisters.

“The musician of the family, Beth is gentle, loving and creative. Her faith in God is paramount to her, closely followed by her passion for music,” Johnson said. “Beth suffers from the effects of scarlet fever throughout the opera. She understandably struggles to come to terms with her illness, but she ultimately finds acceptance and peace through her faith in God.”

Shomos said there are two primary musical themes that wind their way throughout the opera, often in conflict with each other.

“They are often arguing with each other,” he said. “One is Jo’s theme, ‘Perfect As We Are.’ It’s a very recognizable tune. It represents the life that Jo wants—a life free from any disruptive change. The other contrasting theme belongs to her sister Meg, ‘Things Change, Jo,’ also very accessible to the audience’s ear.”

The music is challenging for the singers.

“A lot of the lyrical melodies are very accessible to our ears, and Adamo has a knack for creating a memorable tune,” Shomos said. “We get this lyricism in the arias and the duets and the ensembles, but then he also adventures into atonality and even 12-tone music [which is music that lacks a tonal center or key]. The absence of a clear, harmonic foundation in these passages makes the music challenging. What’s fascinating is that once these sections are well executed, they don’t sound nearly as complex as they really are. Audiences don’t cringe and think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is atonal.’ Adamo’s purpose in the atonal passages is simply to redirect our ears from the harmonic language of music to the rhythmic and pitch elements of the words. The audience doesn’t notice how difficult the music is.”

Johnson said, “The musical themes play a key role in the story telling.”

Lawrence said, “This opera is incredibly difficult in all aspects, with contemporary music that is hard to learn and even harder to memorize, many different locations being used, and most importantly having to portray the growth of these four women to the audience. Bill Shomos has such an inventive mind, and is a great director who has managed to pull this all together so that we can see all the subtleties happening.”

Kramer said the opera is challenging.

“This opera is far more challenging, both dramatically and musically, than any other opera I’ve ever worked on,” she said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed observing the change within the cast and the development of each character from day one to today. I can’t wait to share our story with audiences.”

Triebold said, “The rehearsal process for this production has been so artistically rewarding. It is a sincere privilege to be on stage beside these incredible performers, portraying a story with so much heart.”

Shomos is also working with three graduate designers from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film on the opera. Sheric Hull is the lighting designer; Jessica Thompson is designing the set; and Rebecca Armstrong is coordinating costumes.

“This is just a great collaboration we have going with the theatre program,” Shomos said. “The whole story comes out of Jo’s memory, and she’s a writer. Essentially it’s her story, it’s her book. The whole set is designed with text.”

The Glenn Korff School of Music Opera Program is coming off a successful tour of Nebraska last May, which was supported by the James C. and Rhonda Seacrest Tour Nebraska Opera Fund through the University of Nebraska Foundation. They performed “The Marriage of Figaro” in Friend, Ord, Norfolk and Red Cloud.

“It was great,” Shomos said. “We learned a lot—primarily that we must keep doing this! We’re planning the next leg of the tour for Fall 2017.”

Shomos hopes “Little Women” will provide a respite for audiences from the current world.

“We’re going through a time in which there is a lot of coarseness in the world assaulting us every day,” he said. “What the audience is going to find in ‘Little Women’ is something simple, something beautiful, something that touches the heart. It’s a story about fundamentally good people trying to work through what we all must go through in life: How to embrace the past without getting stuck in it, and how to move into the future without losing the place that we come from. In the end, Jo comes to terms with the notion that life must change, yet the sisters are always a part of her, and she never loses that connection or that love. That’s something everyone can relate to. It will be nice for the audience to step away from all the ugliness we’re facing in the daily news and just ponder that for a couple of hours.”

Triebold said, “One of my favorite lines from the opera is simply ‘On to tomorrow.’ That’s really all we can do. We can’t hold onto time, only appreciate it as it goes by.”

Kramer said everyone knows the feeling of change.

“We try to resist it at every turn and even when embraced feel the fear of uncertainty,” she said. “This story teaches us a great lesson: embrace the moment, not the fear. And as Jo says at the very end of the opera, ‘Now is all we have.’”