Opera brings professionals to campus


Samantha Zoltanski/The Chart

Professional actors Zeffin Quinn Hollis (left) and Ashley Wheat (center) were hired for the Itailian production of Pagliacci. Posing as chorus members, from left to right, Chris Tanksley, Kessie Pendergraft, Gordon Blodgett, Devri Brock and Elaina Bottles gaze in awe at Wheat.

The Missouri Southern Theatre Department, along with the Heartland Opera Theatre and Southern’s Institute of International Studies, will present Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s Italian opera Pagliacci. Directed by Jim Lile, chairman of Southern’s theatre department, the play will be in the Taylor Performing Arts Center on Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct. 13 at 2:30 p.m.

“We’re excited about this event,” said Lile. “It’s kind of a nice town-gown kind of thing—community and University working together on something. “

According to a September press release by Southern’s theatre department, the opera—written in the late 19th century—is about a group of traveling actors who arrive in town to perform, but are unable to keep the struggles of their personal lives from disrupting the show.

“What happens is, as they begin to do their play for this community, it becomes pretty evident pretty quickly that the play exactly mirrors what’s happening in their lives,” said Lile.

The principal cast for Pagliacci consists of professional operatic singers and actors that were brought in from around the country by the Heartland Opera Theatre, including Brian Cheney, Ashley Wheat, Zeffin Quinn Hollis, Patrick Howle and Jayson Canton. In addition to the principal cast is the opera’s chorus, which consists of students and faculty members from Southern.

“We hope to achieve a very enjoyable evening in the theater,” said Lile. “The opera itself is a delight to work on—the music is marvelous. It is my personal favorite opera.”

Despite the fact that the opera will be sung in Italian, Lile has taken steps to make sure audience members still understand what is happening.

“The trick to it is to not worry about not knowing the language they’re singing in. It will be performed in Italian with supertitles,” said Lile. “We will be projecting the English on the wall above the proscenium so that people can just take a look up and see what’s being said.”

According to Lile, Southern’s joint production of the opera, which traditionally takes place in Italy during the 19th century, will now take place in the American Midwest during the Great Depression.

“We just changed the look of it, because the story is very universal,” said Lile. “We’ve changed nothing as far as the dialogue is concerned.”

For additional information about Pagliacci, please contact Terri Spencer at (417) 625-9393.

“If you don’t know opera, or don’t think you would enjoy it, give this one a try because the story is easy to follow, the passion is right out there and it’s very impressive, the characters are beautifully drawn, and the singers that we have are performing beautifully. So it’s a good first opera, I think, for anybody who doesn’t think they would enjoy it,” said Lile.