Baylor Opera Theater sings to college experience

The Baylor Opera Theater begins its new production of Aaron Copland's "The Tender Land" on Feb. 3. Photo courtesy of Jen Stephenson

By Emma Weidmann | Staff Writer

The Baylor Opera Theater opens its newest production, “The Tender Land,” on Feb. 3. A coming of age story, Aaron Copland’s 1954 opera speaks to many of the experiences students may have when they first come to college.

Jen Stephenson, director of the Baylor Opera Theater, said “The Tender Land” will be relatable to many people, especially those who are current college students.

The main character, Laurie, graduates from high school and meets Martin who she falls in love with. However, she has only ever lived on a farm and is intimidated by Martin’s having traveled all over. Laurie discovers that she must leave her comfort zone to be able to find out who she is.

“Laurie has her goals for her life set out for her by her mom and her grandpa, but throughout the story she reveals that she maybe has different goals for herself and she expresses that she shouldn’t be chastised for having her own goals, and that this is her life,” Stephenson said. “I think almost everyone can relate.”

Dallas graduate student Preston Hart, who plays the role of Laurie’s grandfather, explained how Laurie must learn to navigate this transition and become her own person.

“She gets the taste of what it could be like to lead your own life and take control for yourself,” Hart said.

Putting together a show that is able to reach such a wide audience takes a matter of months. In fact, the decision of what opera to showcase is made at the end of every academic year, with rehearsals picking up the following August.

A unique factor is that the Baylor Opera Theater doesn’t audition students for a specific production. Students audition to become a part of the class, and particular operas are picked to fit the vocal parts of the members. The shows are chosen to cater to the students involved, not the other way around.

As director, Stephenson has her hand in almost every part of the show. She is partly in charge of picking the show itself, while she is responsible for producing the show, making arrangements for costumes, set and light design, overall organization and the acting on stage.

Hart said the biggest challenge when rehearsing for a show is learning the music. Operas can be complex to learn; While the show may seem upbeat to the audience, the cast members themselves are constantly thinking of the music in their heads and keeping time while they act.

“There’s just a lot of counting and a lot of ‘What’s this interval?’” Hart said, referring to the music.

While the music in this show may be difficult, it is by no means is a traditional opera. “The Tender Land” deviates from tradition in almost every way, including music.

“Some operas are about big dramatic things like murder or revenge, but ‘The Tender Land’ is just about normal, everyday people who are just trying to live their lives, so there’s no huge blowup of conflict as one sees sometimes in musicals,” Stephenson said. “There’s just people who all have different goals for themselves.”