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Inter-campus collaboration

Grenfell, St. John's theatre and music students produce full-scale opera

Student Life

By Danielle Hamel

An interdisciplinary, multi-campus collaboration between Memorial University students will soon bring a “magical” opera to life.

Memorial’s opera and chamber orchestra programs will premiere their production of Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and the Spells) this weekend with an assist from Grenfell Campus theatre and stagecraft students.

L’Enfant et les Sortilèges is an opera in one act, with music by Maurice Ravel to a libretto by Colette. The story tells of a rude child reprimanded by the objects in his room, which he has been destroying.

He is then surprised that the unhappy objects in his room come to life.

Relationships between campuses

The undergraduate and graduate students say the theatrical collaboration provided an invaluable professional experience and an opportunity for teamwork between creative programs on two of Memorial University’s campuses.

L’Enfant et les Sortilèges features a variety of colourful characters, including a princess torn from her book, a teapot, dancing chairs and a broken clock.

 student sits at a work table with a sewing machine while other students work in the background
Grenfell Campus theatre students create opera costumes at the School of Music in St. John’s.
Photo: Submitted

To design the costume for the two chairs, one of the most intensive in the production, School of Music students Rachel Currie and Nick Leblanc, along with Dr. Caroline Schiller, director of the opera program, travelled to Grenfell Campus earlier in March.

There, they did the initial fittings with the bachelor of fine arts technical theatre students in the third-year masterclass course.

The next stage of the costume design involved students in the technical theatre production class travelling to the School of Music for several days with Elizabeth Perry, head of wardrobe at Grenfell, to complete the costume design and fittings for the rest of the opera’s cast.

The collaboration was made possible by the Cross-Campus Initiatives Fund, which is meant to encourage and build on existing strategic relationships between Memorial’s campuses.

Students at work at costume making.
The Princess’s skirt starts to take shape, thanks to the Grenfell theatre students.
Photo: Submitted

Gavin Urquart, a bachelor of fine art (theatre) student, says the experience added “so much” diversity to his class’s education, thanks to the purpose of the costumes and the materials they were tasked to make them with.

“Building for opera poses unique challenges, as characters often need to look more expressive and bombastic than we are used to,” said Mr. Urquhart. “We also had to use found materials, which really emphasized creativity and sustainability. A big thanks to Caroline Schiller and everyone else at the music program for welcoming us into their school, and another thanks to my classmates Robin, Sam, Lisa and our fearless leader, Elizabeth.”

Memorial’s chamber orchestra is providing the music for the production, under the direction of Dr. Vernon Regehr.

“We feel like we’re wearing art!” — Rachel Currie

It’s the first time since before the pandemic that School of Music students have had the opportunity to produce a full-scale opera that involved the orchestra and opera students collaborating in joint rehearsals throughout the semester.

Ms. Currie, who plays the role of a Bergère chair, says the experience has been “extremely valuable.”

“Collaborating with Elizabeth and her students Gavin, Robin, Lisa, and Samantha was amazing,” she said. “They were so welcoming when we visited the Grenfell Campus and their designs are absolutely beautiful. We feel like we’re wearing art! Being able to finally stage a full production with orchestra, set and costumes is a phenomenal feeling after the pandemic, and the whole process has been an incredible learning experience.”

Students in costumes on stage with backdrops with closed captioning and the student orchestra in front in low light.
Dress rehearsal for L’enfant et les sortilèges in the D. F. Cook Recital Hall.
Photo: Submitted

Ticket information

L’Enfant et les Sortilèges will run Saturday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 24, at 1:30 p.m. in the D.F. Cook Recital Hall. Tickets are available online.

A touring production of L’Enfant et les Sortilèges will travel to primary, elementary and high schools across the island of Newfoundland in May as part of the Opera Roadshow Program.

In addition to introducing live opera theatre to thousands of students throughout Atlantic Canada since the program’s inception in 2003, Opera Roadshow provides students with a three-week, paid professional development opportunity.

Stay tuned to the School of Music website and social media channels for the complete tour schedule.

Academic program information

For more information about Memorial University’s theatre program, including the new theatre minor program, visit the website or follow along on Facebook or Instagram.

For more information about Memorial University’s opera program and the chamber orchestra, visit the School of Music website or follow along on Facebook or Instagram.

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