University of Indianapolis Opera Theatre perform Henry Percell’s Dido and Aeneas featuring Echoing Air

University of Indianapolis music students, faculty and staff put on a two night production of Henry Percell’s “Dido and Aeneas” on the weekend of Feb. 7. The University of Indianapolis Opera Theatre, in conjunction with the musician group Echoing Air, created a two hour performance open to the public admission-free Friday and Saturday night. According to Stage Director and adjunct Daniel Narducci, the UIndy Opera Theatre had been preparing for their performance since August.

“At the beginning of the process, it was all about the music because this is new music to all of the students,” Narducci said. “There was a rehearsal process that went on for about four weeks where they met six or so hours a week in different stages.”

According to Narducci, “Dido and Aeneas” was the first operatic performance for almost all of the cast members. Narducci said that many of the students have good stage experience and excellent instincts, but that is not all it took for this performance.

“Opera is a little bit of a different beast,” Narducci said. “It’s a different style and it requires attention to what is needed to convey emotion…. Opera always comes down to voice, voice and more voice.”

One of the directorial intentions that UIndy Opera Theatre was able to achieve for “Dido and Aeneas” was to bring in vivid characters, Narducci said. Producer and music professor Kathleen Hacker said that the process of finding the right people to make the artistic team has been one of the strengths of their performance. On top of the directors in their various sections of the performance, the students have the majority of the responsibility, said Hacker.

“Students are doing makeup or doing hair, everything,” Hacker said. “We have a foundation of a good solid orchestra underneath them…. It’s just all working out great, I couldn’t be happier.”

Photo by Noah Fields Audrey Scrogham and Oliver Valle portray the titular characters in University of Indianapolis Opera Theatre’s production of “Dido and Aeneas.” In this scene, Dido reprimands Aeneas for wanting to abandon her for a sea voyage.

Narducci said that the biggest challenge from a staging standpoint is the fact that they are producing an opera in a concert hall instead of a traditional theater. A theater that has wings and a curtain provides opportunities to change scenes and have an orchestra that is not visible to the audience, according to Narducci.

“Everything that is done by actors, orchestra [and] by the maestro is visible,” Narducci said. “Even in those blue outs, the actors and our stage crew are seen moving props.”

In attendance at the performance was sophomore software engineering major Annalie Ciszar. She said that she came to watch the production to show support for her friends and cast members.

“I was very impressed and I feel like singing in that way would be a hard talent to master,” Ciszar said.

According to Ciszar, it was very interesting to learn about the composer of the opera through Echoing Air’s prologue to the performance. She said that it stuck out to her because they utilized Henry Percell’s music to follow their narration.

Narducci said that unlike most other UIndy productions, technical designer, director and assistant professors Peter Nichols and Brett Leonard recorded and videoed the performance.

“In addition to the students learning about how to present an opera, how to sing and perform opera, they’re also seeing these other elements come in from the audio side and the visual side,” Narducci said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach the whole very broad-based aspect of the performing arts.”

According to Narducci, the cast has a broad range of classes, ages and experiences that goes from students who have significant stage experience as well as those who are participating in their first production. Hacker said that she is most happy that students are having such a good time with the opera and that both her and the students have learned quite a lot throughout the process. According to Hacker, the performance night is like birthing a baby in that the opera has had a long gestation period and it was finally time to get it out in front of an audience. 

“The talent level that we have here at UIndy is really exceptional,” Narducci said. “The voices that are ringing out in that hall are not only beautifully present, but express deep emotion and feeling.”