Compōs-it Opera, a collaborative showcase of original student work, premiered two new operas last Friday in the Cohon Center Studio Theatre.
The evening of performances began with Bowl of Small Hands, an expressionist exploration of a tormented young woman seeking refuge. Senior BHA student in music technology and technical writing Joshua Brown wrote and composed the opera as part of his capstone, a cumulative project that BXA students complete during their senior year.
Jacqueline Tardanico (CFA ’18) exhibited raw emotion in the role of Cherry, a woman who realizes “the boundaries between what is real and what is not... are becoming porous.” Visually compelling set design by sophomore drama major Katherine Sharpless, paired with Brown’s mesmerizing orchestrations, placed the audience directly in Cherry’s mind, while stage direction by sophomore drama major Rachel Pospisil effectively used movement to show the control exercised by Cherry’s inner demons.
The next performance was Suburban Mompera, a contemporary take on the classical Faustian narrative. This was the first composition by senior music major Russel H. Holbert, who wrote the score that underlies Brown’s libretto.
The audience was fully engaged with Suburban Mompera from the start, when housewives Pam, Shelby, and Mindy reveal their longing for a life beyond mommy blogs and PTA meetings. The opera successfully blended comedy and emotion, weaving hilarious one-liners with fully-realized backstories and excellent characterization.
Holbert created the opera as part of his requirements for Fifth Year Scholars, a university-sponsored fellowship that funds an additional year of study for students who wish to launch impactful projects on campus. Holbert hoped Compōs-it Opera would provide the Carnegie Mellon community with music “by the students, for the students” and expose the audience to contemporary opera.
Overall, the team behind Compōs-it Opera admirably took risks and forged partnerships from all corners of the university. “If there’s something I know how to do, it’s start something I don’t know how to do,” said Brown.
“Throughout the process, there was a lot of magic and luck.” Holbert and Brown clearly have a strong collaborative relationship and Compōs-it Opera promises continued growth and achievement in any future work they may embark on.