Off the Cuff: John Harper
Double-degree junior John Harper plays the role of Friedrich Bhaer in the Oberlin Conservatory Opera Theater’s production of Little Women, which premiered last Wednesday, with additional performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Hall Auditorium.
Tell me about the opera Little Women.
Well, it was originally written in 1998 by composer Mark Adamo, and it’s based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott.
How did you first become interested in opera?
I went to performing arts high school where I initially studied violin and dance. But while I was there, I also received free voice lessons, so I was singing a lot. Then I was enrolled in the Governor’s performing arts program in Georgia, where I’m from, and my teachers told me that this was really something that I could be successful with.
What are some other roles you’ve played at Oberlin?
I played Don Alfonso in Cosi van Tutte last year and I’ve performed in quite a few opera scenes.
Is there a difference in how you approach contemporary as opposed to classical roles?
Not really. In classical opera, you can get away with being more lax with the rhythm because the audience has more of an expectation about what they’re going to hear and it’s so tonal. With modern opera, it’s still about line, but you have to be more precise in your understanding of how it’s supported rhythmically.
I understand there were some irregularities with this cast. One of the principal leads was expelled mid-production and a professional actress was hired to fill in. How did this work out?
It ended up working very well. [The actress,] Katherine Pracht has been great. We didn’t get a chance to rehearse with her until February, so it was a little unnerving when she first came in. But she’s played the role several times before so we were able to learn a lot from her and benefit from her insight.
With two major contemporary works being staged this semester, Lost Highway and Little Women, it seems like this is really a great time for opera at Oberlin.
I don’t know. There’s nothing really unusual about this year; we always have a winter and a spring production. It’s always a good time for opera at Oberlin!