BSU Opera Theater's 'The 1950s in 3 short operas' to transport audience back in time
While the Bemidji State Opera Theater continues moving forward with full vibrato, their upcoming opera will provide a retrospective look at life seven decades ago.
BEMIDJI — While the Bemidji State Opera Theater continues moving forward with full vibrato, their upcoming opera will provide a retrospective look at life seven decades ago.
This year’s production, “The 1950s in Three Short Operas,” features three separate works that pair together to explore the fashion, technology and culture of the United States during that time, and allows the audience to draw parallels between themes in the show with their own lives today.
“It shows how flawed we all are and we can all identify with some of the stuff that goes on. (The show) talks about distractions of technology starting to come in. It’s kind of pathetic,” Director Cory Renbarger said lightheartedly, “that the telephone is going to be such a demon. Little did we know how much it was going to take over the dinner table at every meal.”
The production includes Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Telephone,” Samuel Barber’s “A Hand of Bridge” and Douglas Moore’s “Gallantry.”
Renbarger knew he wanted to put on “The Telephone,” and keeping in mind the 18-member cast, chose the other two operas to create the 50s theme.
“I always look for stuff that fits students’ voices … and want to give them something they’re physically capable of, but also push their musical abilities,” Renbarger detailed. “We also have a lot of new singers and I wanted to pick things that were shorter so they could feel they could do something very difficult, but also doable.”
He said the shortest of the three operas is only 10 minutes long, but that the music is very difficult to learn. Yet, the student performers have risen to the challenge of doing so.
A different era
BSU seniors Bria Halvorson and Noah Bostic first appeared in BSU’s “Cinderella” in February and March 2020 just prior to the coronavirus pandemic shut-down.
Both will have their last respective shows when the curtains rise on opening night.
“I’m just excited to see everybody else’s performances,” Halvorson said during rehearsal on Wednesday. “I have kept it a surprise for myself. I haven’t gone to anyone else’s rehearsals (before tonight), so it’s going to be interesting to finally see what the full production is like.”
Each opera is double cast with Halvorson playing Lucy in “The Telephone,” on select nights.
“It’s a story of two lovers and it's kind of a love triangle, but the third person’s the phone," Halvorson added, "so it relates to the world happening now and how teens are addicted to their phones.”
Bostic plays a hospital patient named Donald in “Gallantry,” which parodies popular soap operas complete with “commercial breaks.”
“The show is literally interrupted by commercials for floor wax, a bar of soap that could change your life and make you feel so much younger again,” Bostic said. “I think the show is incredibly funny.”
For freshmen, Hailee Colgrove and Carson Binkley, their first operatic performances with BSU have come with their own sets of challenges along with excitement.
Colgrove plays the announcer who advertises the wax and soap in “Gallantry.”
“(The character) is a very bubbly, confident woman. My personality is not big and bubbly and confident, so it took me out of my comfort zone to play a character like that,” Colgrove detailed. “It’s been a very big step for me.”
Colgrove has been involved in theater since middle school. Binkley, on the other hand, will make his acting debut as a businessman named David in “Hand of Bridge.”
“I thought it would be really fun to do. I had never done opera, musical theater or show choir in school, so this is kind of a new experience for me,” Binkley said. “Because I’ve never done this before, being able to portray what the character is supposed to be like, then having that come through as I sing and put on this persona (is a challenge).”
As opening night nears, Renbarger hopes to encourage audience participation and address stigmas surrounding opera in the Northwoods.
“One of my greatest wishes for this year is that the audience feels like they’re at something that they can interact with, that they can laugh,” Renbarger said. “Especially here, we may feel ‘oh, opera is so stuffy’ but you can cheer and clap and participate. It’s like a concert of any other kind.”
Renbarger also hopes the cast can find moments during the production where the musical difficulty “melts away for a second” and that they just have fun portraying their characters.
Such a sentiment rings true as the singers prepare to transport the audience to the past.
“It’s an era of music, era of lifestyle that people don’t see these days,” Bostic left off, “so take a step back in time and have a little laugh in the 1950s.”
Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25, with a matinee at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26. All shows will take place on the main stage in the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex.
Tickets can be reserved by calling (218) 755-2762. The cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Unsold tickets will be available at the door before each show pending availability.