Missouri State University’s music department is in full swing, preparing for the day when performances and rehearsals can be held without adherence to capacity limitations or mask requirements.
Despite the strict regulations, fine arts organizations like Missouri State Opera are taking precautions by changing the way rehearsals are run and holding outdoor performances, according to Ann Daehn, associate professor of voice and director of the Opera.
“We have smaller numbers, about 15 this semester, compared to last semester which was about 32,” Daehn said.
To prioritize social distancing guidelines, rehearsals have been held outdoors when the weather is up to par or students have been meeting with various instructors on Zoom.
According to Daehn, performances are held on Fridays around lunchtime at the north mall by the Plaster Student Union. Unfortunately, the show on Oct. 23 was canceled due to poor weather conditions.
This semester, performances were moved solely outdoors and the subject matter of the shows were also altered.
“Instead of big chorus scenes and romantic duets, I programmed a series of micro operas,” Daehn said.
The group made the transition from full length operas to those that are only 5-25 minutes in length with significantly smaller casts.
“We remain masked the entire time, using clear masks for performances,” Daehn said. “Our casts range from two to four people, and we are able to socially distance fairly well.”
Micro operas are a relatively new idea in opera, according to Deahn. The group is fortunate enough to perform operas by living composers like Leanna Kirchoff, Michael Ching, Phillip Seward, Lisa DeSpain and Wes Flinn.
The group has put on a variety of shows, including “Leo, an Opera in One Cat” — about a man driven to violence by a cat, “Bedtime Story” —(a lover's quarrel that led to murder — and a piece called “All Dressed Up (No Place to Go)” created during the lockdown by an American composer named Michael Ching for an opera troupe in Singapore.
“We got a string trio and quartet coached by my colleague Dr. Daniel Ketter to join in on the fun and to offer music as part of our events as well,” Daehn said. “All performances are free and anyone can stop in.”
Tyler Wallin, senior music major, has been involved in the opera class since her sophomore year and says she has cherished every moment since. She’s also taken notice of how adaptable her peers have become.
“Even with all the changes made (due to COVID-19), I’ve seen higher levels of dedication and artistry rather than declination,” Wallin said. “It’s incredible to see the resiliency of musicians as a whole. Whether opera or jazz, our entire industry has taken blow after blow. I think it’s incredibly important, maybe now more than ever in my lifetime, to find and support local artistry.”
Wallin recounted memories of laughing hard at silly mistakes during rehearsal and the surreal rush of being in the spotlight.
“Personally, I’ve been in a trio and quartet, meaning three and four people, rather than an entire class,” Wallin said. “While I do miss seeing all my friends in one classroom and seeing the process of improvement like we normally would, I’m extremely grateful that we are able to safely and studiously practice and perform our craft together.”
Daehn said she is already looking ahead to the spring semester.
“We are planning to do Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicci’ and a modern day sequel written by Michael Ching titled ‘Buoso’s Ghost,’” Daehn said. “I plan to get very creative with how that cast engages with one another. The pandemic has forced us all to look beyond traditional productions and be more creative, so that is what I intend to do.”
With a heavy heart, Daehn said all the traditional opportunities were canceled due to COVID-19, such as national competitions and on-campus events.
“It’s hard to believe that just one week before everything shut down, the opera and Meyer Library were hosting a Gatsby night at the Kentwood ballroom with a full house,” Daehn said.
“The world changes very quickly. Normally, we compete nationally at the National Opera Association Opera Scenes competition finals, but this will all be moved online and some competitions are cancelled. In the meantime, we are all dreaming of the time we can all be together again.”
Despite the circumstances, Daehn encourages anyone to participate in the opera program.
“You do not have to be a music major to be in the opera,” Daehn said. “In the fall, I try to find performance opportunities for every single singer. In the spring, it is limited to the casts of the opera, with auditions held in late November.”
Wallin praises the music department for their perseverance.
“I cannot thank the music department enough for finding safe ways for us to continue to learn and grow as artists, musicians, teachers and friends."