The Wanda L. Bass School of Music placed first in their division in the National Opera Association’s (NOA) 2018 Production Competition Awards for their production of Dark Sisters.
The award brings the school of music’s total NOA awards to six in the past five years.
The opera featured composer Nico Muhly with direction by Dr. David Herendeen and musical direction by Dr. Matthew Mailman.
Herendeen said the award was presented Saturday at the NOA convention in New Orleans.
Herendeen said the process of submitting productions is a blind review, meaning the school and director are not revealed. To submit to the NOA, membership is required. One sends in a digital recording of the production along with a budget and his/her vision for the show.
“It’s evaluated on a variety of things: the quality of production, the success, a lot of overall stuff. It also tries very hard to evaluate in the finances. Some schools are very, very wealthy and can rent, you know, the highest costumes and sets,” Herendeen said.
The NOA “promotes excellence in opera education and pedagogy through its support of a diverse community of opera educators and professionals,” according to its website, noa.org.
Herendeen said the awards are competitive because of the wide range of schools and professional companies competing. He also said some companies hire outside people to help with their productions.
“We do a high-quality production aesthetically, but it’s all done in-house. It’s students and me and Dr. Mailman. We have student designers that are just phenomenal. That’s one thing I think is impressive,” he said.
Karlye Whitt, vocal performance alumna, played “Eliza” in Dark Sisters. She said she is proud to have been part of such a vigorous process.
“Everyone involved with Dark Sisters, whether on or off stage, worked incredibly hard to present Muhly’s opera, and it is very gratifying to see everyone’s work be recognized,” she said.
PT Mahoney, music theater senior, played “the Prophet” in Dark Sisters and said he was excited because of the recognition OCU will receive.
“I’m very proud of the work we put into the show. The material was difficult, and the show’s subject matter was heavy, but we were able to lean into each other as a cast and tell a story that got people to think. I hope that the rest of the shows I’m in throughout my life are as rewarding as Dark Sisters was,” Mahoney said.
Brennan Martinez, vocal performance alumnus, played “Ruth” and said, because the opera is so new, the cast didn’t have many productions to reference when learning the music.
“We all learned it from scratch, which was well worth the challenge,” Martinez said.
Martinez also said Dark Sisters is traditionally performed as a chamber opera, meaning the orchestra is typically smaller and the show is produced in a smaller setting than a grand opera. Herendeen decided to portray the show on a much larger scale.
“It was so grand that Nico Muhly, the composer of this opera who came to work with us in the final weeks, even said this was the biggest production he had ever seen of his opera,” Martinez said.
Martinez said she hopes the award will give OCU more recognition in the world of opera.
“I hope this award catches the attention of aspiring young opera singers looking into undergraduate studies. OCU is a phenomenal school that challenges its music students, and I think it deserves more attention on a national scale, especially to classical singers,” she said.
The school of music will continue producing newer works with the world premiere of The Vaudevillian at 8 p.m. Feb. 16-17 and 3 p.m. Feb. 18 in Kirkpatrick Auditorium in Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Center.
“Being a part of this opera makes me proud to be an alumna of OCU and excited to see the contemporary opera they do in the future,” Whitt said.