The performance starred a talented TU cast that gave a powerful performance.
On the heels of the Tulsa Opera’s “The Stars Align” concert came TU Opera’s spring show, “Thoroughly Modern Martha,” performed on Thursday, March 8 and Friday, March 9 at the Lorton Performance Center’s Gussman Hall. There were two separate casts for this production, and I had the privilege of seeing the Friday night cast, which starred junior vocal performance major Jesica Santino as Martha.
TU’s performance was a more modern English retelling of Friedrich von Flotow’s “Martha,” which premiered in Vienna in 1847 and quickly gained popularity in the world of opera. The version performed on campus was written by Marilyn Tyler and our own Brady McElligott, and it’s a romantic comedy full of terrible puns. The show begins with a powerful overture by the orchestra, which leads to the introduction of the character of Lady Harriet, a bored noblewoman living in 1920s England who decides to masquerade as a maidservant called “Martha” alongside her lady-in-waiting, Nancy (or “Julia”). Of course, things go wrong, and the pair ends up being hired and legally obligated to work for two men, who own a seaside resort and spa, and who end up falling in love with them!
The cast was incredibly talented and funny, with gorgeous voices that were occasionally masked by the force of the orchestra. Santino was elegant and refined in the role of Lady Harriet and her piercing soprano voice filled the hall, often blending beautifully with that of mezzo-soprano Katelyn Baker, who played Nancy. Asura Oulds, bass, and Wyatt Cobb, baritone, were hilarious, and broken-hearted tenor Zane Cawthon gave an emotional, profound performance. The women’s chorus was lively. Overall, the performance was energetic and exciting. I left satisfied and, as always, wondering how opera singers do it. During my time at TU, I’ve attended all of the opera performances as well as many of the vocal recitals, and it’s heartwarming to hear these singers grow and improve over time.
This production could not have happened without Brady McElligott, TU’s director of opera, who has worked tirelessly over the past several months to coordinate the vocalists, the orchestra, sets, costumes, music and advertisement. He has years of experience working in music as a vocalist and pianist and has been a member of the TU music faculty since 2007. By directing operas starring university students, he helps to prepare these vocalists for future careers as performers and, in the grand scheme of things, to keep the art of opera present in the United States and around the world. At intermission, I ran down to the orchestra pit, where he was conducting, to talk to him about the performance, and he was so passionate about his work and excited that I would be reviewing the show.
In a time when the fine arts are often ignored and underfunded in schools, TU’s opera theatre would love more attention from the student body. They’re done with performances for this semester but will be back with another opera in the fall and will be advertising it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@TUOperaTheatre). For centuries, opera has worked to tell human stories through music, and that’s something worth keeping alive.