Master a Beast in 4 Short Weeks

January 31, 2020
Charlotte Maskelony '21
a prairie dog family and a young girl onstage
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Students devote winter term to mounting an opera premiere.

How many Oberlin students does it take to produce a world-premiere opera? In January 2020, 32 student singers, instrumentalists, and designers produced The Wild Beast of the Bungalow, a new opera by composer Rachel J. Peters and librettist Royce Vavrek. The dark comedy follows a young girl reacting to her parents’ failing marriage with a menagerie of whimsical, candid creatures.

Led by 10 faculty and professional artists, the cast rehearsed the show while the production team researched taxidermy, sewed mermaid costumes, and built a hot-pink bedroom set on the stage of Warner Concert Hall—all in four weeks.

Twelve years in the making, the opera received its stage legs through Oberlin’s new Opera Commissioning Program, supported by Elizabeth and Justus ’71 Schlichting. A fall semester workshop cast fine-tuned Beast with Peters and Vavrek in preparation for the winter production, which was produced in conjunction with Cleveland Opera Theater’s New Opera Works {NOW} Fest.

Oberlin’s dedication to new opera increases opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Kitty Schwartz ’20, an English and history double major, served as assistant director for this production. Her love of opera blossomed through visits to Lyric Opera of Chicago while pursuing research in the city during her junior year.

“Seeing my interests converge through Beast showed me new possibilities for life after Oberlin,” she says. “I can definitely see myself in arts administration, and I would love to work in opera.”

The Wild Beast of the Bungalow ran at Oberlin Conservatory January 29 through February 2. It was directed by Christopher Mirto, conducted by Joseph Hodge, and musically prepared by Daniel Michalak.

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