Opera Premiering at Hatke Theatre, Julius Caesar in Egypt

By Neil Kavanaugh

Catholic University is putting on an opera, opening this Thursday March 28 and runs until Sunday March 31st. The shows will take place in Hartke Theatre. The opera takes place in ancient Egypt and focuses on the Roman Civil War of 49-45 B.C, the peak of Caesar’s reign and his relationship with Cleopatra.

The opera is based on historical details of the events following the Roman wars which involve Caesar’s encounters with Cleopatra. Before she fell in love with Mark Antony, Cleopatra was in love with Caesar and bore his only child. These events led up to the eventual meeting between Antony and Cleopatra.

There are many steps involved in putting on a performance like this.

“The cast was assigned their roles last spring, and started learning their roles over the summer,” said Doctor Hampton, the director of the opera. “They have to learn all the rhythms and all the notes. It’s in Italian, so they have to translate all their lines so that they know what they are saying. Some of the students are doing this for credit, but most are just doing it for the passion of the opera. People do opera because they love it. It is the synthesis of all the art forms.”

The actors had to work on their music separately, and in the beginning of this spring semester, the cast got together and had rehearsals with the conductor and principal coach. The designers also contributed greatly to the opera. Creating the set and the lightning is an essential part of the production that cannot be overlooked. Roman columns that could easily have been mistaken as marble littered the stage, and the actors and actresses were all clad in intricate costumes that seemed historically accurate even the wigs were styled to look like hairstyles from the era, wreaths of grapevine included. The entire creative team came together to create the vision for the opera at the end of last fall and have been working on it for months in anticipation of opening weekend.

“This is my first time working in an opera,” said Joris Valkenberg, who is playing Tolemao, the child king of Egypt. “The only sort of stage experience I have had before is in my freshman and sophomore years of high school; I played ensemble roles in the school musicals, but besides that I have only done choral music so this is my first time ever singing in an opera or singing in a named role.”  

“This is my fourth opera here at Catholic University,” said John Gibney, who is playing the lead Julius Caesar, “and this is the first Handel I have done so it definitely has a lot more coloratura [an elaborate vocal melody, usually sung by a soprano] than I am used to. I have to sing very fast, while still being able to be heard. I still get nervous for opening nights, but I use that energy to give my character extra emotion.”

The cast and crew have been working tirelessly for almost a year on this opera, and the effort is evident. This is the vocal department’s biggest performance of the semester.

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