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Pre-July 2009 Press Archives

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4/24/2008 Linfield to celebrate 150 years of American opera

McMINNVILLE – Dramatic scenes from a Wild West saloon and séance will highlight "150 Years of American Opera," operatic performances by Linfield College music students, on Saturday, May 10, at 8 p.m. in the Richard and Lucille Ice Auditorium in Melrose Hall at Linfield.

The evening will celebrate Linfield's sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of the college, and is the culmination of the Linfield Opera Theatre, a one-credit course offered each spring to give students operatic experience. This is the 18th production of the program, directed by Gwen Leonard, professor of music at Linfield. She is assisted by Susan McDaniel, pianist and 1997 Linfield graduate, costumer Linda Mattson and sewing designer Edith Reynolds, a 1951 Linfield graduate and former professor of home economics.

A 20-member cast featuring Linfield students and professional singers will perform operatic excerpts and a full-length one-act opera, "The Face on the Bar Room Floor" by Henry Mollicone, which highlights a legend from the Colorado Wild West bar. Linfield senior Sara Vonn plays the parts of Isabelle and Madeline, a bar maid who is accidentally shot and killed during a love triangle confrontation in the saloon. Years later, events of the past haunt the bar.

"This year's choice of American Opera brings a noticeable change in compositional techniques," said Vonn, a music and psychology double major who has performed in the opera theatre for four years. "It is a great opportunity as a musician to sing in an opera using 20th century techniques such as quotation and pandiatonicism."

Students will also perform selected scenes from "The Medium" by Gian Carlo Menotti. Written in the 1940s, the opera details the story of a psychic, Baba, played by professional mezzo soprano Sherry Olson, who holds fake séances in order to make money. She is assisted by her daughter, Monica, played by sophomore Melissa Davaz.

Though Davaz took part in last year's performance, this is her first lead role.

"I hope to take what I learn from the experience, physically, mentally and musically, and pass it on to my fellow singers," said Davaz, a music and anthropology major. "Musicians are always learning and discovering new things about their craft."

The evening will conclude with lighter content, including duets and the champagne chorus from "La Traviata" by Verdi. The evening's performances highlight the history of American opera over the past 150 years, with excerpts from both borrowed Italian works and original 20th century American works, Leonard said.

"American opera doesn't take its wings until the 20th century with composers like Copland, Bernstein and Menotti," Leonard said. "In the early colonial times and until the end of the 19th century, there were dominant influences from Europe, both in composition and in performing. Traveling troupes, usually Italian, played in many of the old Wild West towns and all the original American opera sounded like European composers’ work."

The Linfield College Opera Theatre gives students an opportunity to combine singing and acting ability in the context of studying repertoire from the best of musical theatre. The workshop was established in 1993 when student singers collaborated with the Linfield Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Pergolesi's "La Serva Padrona."

The 90-minute performance is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Linfield Music Department at 503-883-2275.