Protagonist Laurie Moss learns this lesson the hard way in “The Tender Land,” an opera written by Aaron Copland and set in the Midwest United States during the Great Depression. Moss is the first member of her family to graduate from high school and longs to see new places and do new things outside of the rural environment where she spent her entire life.
Students from Indiana Wesleyan University will perform “The Tender Land” from March 21-22 and 28-29. According to Director Dr. Tammie Huntington, it will be IWU’s first full-length American “opera seria,” or serious opera.
One of the key challenges for the cast has been properly depicting the opera’s 1930s setting. Huntington has stressed the importance of this with her cast members.
“Each cast member was required to fill out a thorough background report on their character that required researching the time period through Internet, written and pictorial research,” Huntington says in an email interview.
Stage manager Braden Hunt (jr) says the way the characters sing the words and the style of music reflect the dialect of the time period in the United States.
“The cast takes off the ‘g’ on some of the words. So instead of ‘going,’ it’ll be ‘goin,’” Hunt says. “Lots of the music has a hoedown feel to it.”
Overall, Huntington says the cast has done an outstanding job with such a challenging production.
“The music is very difficult,” Huntington says. “[Composer] Aaron Copland uses a lot of mixed meter and unusual intervals to capture the natural pattern of speech and voice inflection in his characters. Our students have done amazingly well, and I’m very proud of them, but it definitely has been a challenge.”
Elise Duncan (sr), plays the lead of Laurie in the two Saturday performances and says the opera is very physically taxing.
“There isn’t any time for lulls of silence on stage with the music, because we have to put every movement we do on stage with the music,” Duncan said. “We have to keep our energy uptempo even when the music is slower.”
Since the opera is so hard on the body, Duncan says the cast members sometimes have to “mark” their parts, or sing quietly, to preserve their voices during rehearsals.
Duncan also says IWU will perform the opera with two casts. One cast will perform in the Friday shows, and the other cast in the Saturday shows.
“Having two casts gives us an interesting opportunity to see what the other cast is doing to get a different perspective on our characters,” Duncan says.
Huntington says she believes members of the IWU community will enjoy the opera because many of the its themes are relatable to a college community.
“A Midwest farm, parents struggling to let go of their children, children struggling to create their own lives while still honoring and respecting their parents. These are very familiar themes on a college campus,” says Huntington.
Hunt echoes Huntington’s statements, saying the people who attend the opera will greatly enjoy the music.
“‘The Tender Land’ has a lot of fun, upbeat music,” Hunt says. “And it’s in English, unlike many operas, so the audience will actually be able to understand the words.”
The Friday and Saturday performances will take place March 21-22 and 28-29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Phillippe Performing Arts Center.