Baylor Opera debuts Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music’

By Micaela Freeman | Staff Writer

Baylor Opera performed Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center Wednesday through Saturday of last week. The production used emotional lyrics to pluck at the audience’s heart strings, making it difficult for listeners to refrain from falling in love with long-lost lovers and main characters, Desiree Armfeldt and Fredrick.

American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim set the opera in Sweden in the early 1900s, centering the plot around the intriguing life of performer Desiree Armfeldt. Best known for his most recent musical-movie adaptation, Into the Woods, Sondheim has contributed to the broadway scene since 1954, when he debuted his first musical, Saturday Night. In his earlier years, Sondheim was under mentorship of Academy Award winner, Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1973, Sondheim adapted filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night and turned an acclaimed movie into a Broadway hit.

A Little Night Music reined in four Tony awards in 1973 and is currently considered a Sondheim classic. The Baylor Opera debuted the Broadway hit Wednesday, and the Tony award winning song, “Send in the Clowns” was performed by main character, Desiree Armfeldt, on the Baylor stage for the first time. The performance included elements of comic relief and torrid love affairs between multiple characters, accompanied by a live orchestral performance by the Baylor Symphony.

The process of debuting A Little Night Music has been a journey for the Baylor Opera with new faces, challenges, and innovations in set, costumes, and dialogue.

Jessie Mullins, former director for the Houston Opera and stage director for A Little Night Music, is the most recent addition to the opera’s team. When stage director Susan Li called her the first week of the spring semester with the job opportunity, she said she accepted the offer and quickly had to adjust to a new lifestyle. A Little Night Music was Mullins’ first experience with the Baylor Opera.

“It was a kind of a crash course of excitement,” Mullins said. “[It’s been] a change of pace and change of life. It has been completely and totally different in a really rewarding way.”

Mullins said she especially loves the position because she gets to work directly with students.

“It has been an amazing process of meeting a whole new group of students,” she said. “They’re so appreciative about the process, and it’s really neat to see them grow so quickly.”

The music calls for a wide range of vocal abilities, as well as strong lead characters and emotional scenes. The mix of live vocals and orchestral work brought a new sound to the Baylor stage.

After much preparation from months of rehearsals, Mullins said she expected opening night to be a smash hit.

“I am very excited for [opening night]. Tech was a long and tiring process but every day was really exciting. And tonight, I get to see the audience’s emotions. [I] get to feel the appreciation of the audience,” Mullins said.

In addition to the team of A Little Night Music, Baylors students and faculty were eager to see the Sondheim classic come to life.

Austin sophomore Maya Adams said she had been anticipating the performance. “I’m a big fan of music, so I’m really excited to see the blend of the orchestra with live vocals,” she said.

“I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to see such a wide range of talent on Baylor’s campus without needing to travel an urban hub.”