Students portray power struggle on stage

The Baylor Opera Theater is currently producing its rendition of the opera “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” in the Jones Theatre in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. Brooke Giacin | Multimedia Journalist

By Andie Chilson | Reporter

The Baylor Opera Theater brought history to life on stage through “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” during its opening night on Thursday.

Its rendition of the Claudio Monteverdi opera will also be performed 7:30 p.m. Friday as well as 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in the Jones Theatre in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.

The cast is entirely composed of undergraduate and graduate students at Baylor and is conducted by Music Director of the Baylor Opera Theater, Jeffrey Peterson.

The director of the Baylor Opera Theater, Susan Stone Li, is in charge of stage direction for the performance.

“L’Incoronazione di Poppea” was Monteverdi’s last opera. It tells the story of how Poppea, mistress of the Roman emperor, Nero, became the empress of Rome.

“It’s a story about power and how to achieve power, especially for women in Roman history,” Stone Li said.

“[The story] is being told by the Roman gods, so we have this interesting dichotomy of the gods telling the story as a way to show how powerful they are, and the humans participating in this story basically to show how powerful they are,” Stone Li said.

The cast began fine tuning their Italian in September of last year and staging rehearsals in October. Because opera is a course at Baylor, students rehearse during class time, typically eight hours per week. In the weeks leading up to opening night, students were rehearsing up to 24 hours a week said Stone Li.

“Because [the class] is required of vocal performance students, it usually ends up being students who are almost exclusively from the School of Music,” Stone Li said.

The opera exhibits a wide range of voices, but the countertenor voice is especially noteworthy in this production said Stone Li.

“To our modern ears, it can have kind of an effeminate context, but the countertenors that we have singing the main roles are everything but effeminate. So it’s kind of a jump for a modern audience to be able to digest,” Stone Li said.

Rowlett senior and vocal performance major Preston Hart is one of the few low register voices in the opera.

He plays the part of Roman philosopher and adviser to the king, Seneca the Younger.

Hart said his character is torn between his duty to the king and his own moral code.

“I try to really emphasize the fact that [Seneca’s] trying to empower Octavia,” Hart said. “He’s trying to help. It’s just a matter of whether he’s perceived that way.”

Layton, Utah, master’s candidate Charity Cooper portrays the character Ottone, former lover of Poppea.

“I think [Ottone] is relatable because he’s caught in between someone he really loves and cares about and has really betrayed him, but he has to do what the empress tells him to,” Cooper said.

According to Cooper, Stone Li has worked to spread the word about the opera by reaching out to the Waco community, as “[‘L’Incoronazione di Poppea’] is a little bit more obscure, so it might make people a little nervous to take a chance on a show that they’ve never heard of,” Cooper said. “But everyone’s worked really hard, especially the last couple of weeks, to bring it all together.”