Opera that is accessible through storytelling and a student composer’s world premiere inspired by the Me Too movement are among highlights of Roosevelt University’s upcoming OperaFest XII.
Returning for two afternoons, Oct. 19 and 20, the festival will feature one-act performances by 30 Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) graduate-level voice students and a student-composed world premiere that explores the power a woman can have in beating back and achieving justice over a male attacker.
CCPA’s new head of opera, Susan Payne O’Brien of Evanston, Ill., who is founder of the all-female Forte Chicago operatic company and noted for her inventive melding of opera and theater, will lead this year’s event. She joined Roosevelt this fall as CCPA’s visiting assistant professor of opera.
“This year’s festival will emphasize our student singers as theatrical artists,” said O’Brien, who cut her teeth in directing and performing at the famed Piven Theater Workshop in Evanston, Ill.
“There will be a lot of storytelling in small venues around campus and we invite everyone, particularly those who have never been up close to opera before, to join us for three very different one-act shows,” O’Brien said.
Frideswide and the Devil, a one-act opera written by Roosevelt student composer Dorian Cunningham and creative writer Debra Mitchell, is the story of the female patron saint of Oxford, England who stands her ground against a male abductor, forcing him to face repercussions for his actions.
“At the time, we were watching the judge Brett Kavanaugh situation and decided to create a story in response,” said Cunningham, winner of CCPA’s 2019 OperaLab composition competition.
Sung by six students and accompanied by piano, the world premiere will be performed at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19 and 20, in Roosevelt’s historic seventh-floor Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Other OperaFest XII shows include Angry Birdsong and Benedicta, contemporary one-act operas by Milton Granger, beginning at 3 p.m. in Ganz Hall, and Jacques Offenbach’s “Olympia” from the historic opera The Tales of Hoffman at 4 p.m. in Roosevelt’s 10th floor Murray-Green Library.
CCPA faculty members Dana Brown and Scott Gilmore will direct festival music. Joining O’Brien in stage direction will be special guest Claire DiVizio of Chicago’s Thompson Street Opera Company.