Enjoy a new opera and new drink mixes
A fixation with Elvis, the perils of day-drinking, and the frustrations of pandemic team meetings via Zoom are all part of the Cedar Rapids Opera's next 2nd Thursday Series event, Operatini, which will include the world premiere of the three-act opera Emma's Misadventures in Zoomland.
Emma's Misadventures in Zoomland was composed by Nancy Cobb, emeritus Associate Provost, University of Northern Iowa, with libretto by Melinda Boyd, Associate Director, UNI School of Music. The featured singer is mezzo-soprano Suzanne Hendrix-Case, Assistant Professor of Music at UNI, who debuted at the Metropolitan Opera (New York) in 2019.
The idea for Operatini came from an image Cobb had of a virtual audience at home enjoying a short opera with cocktails in hand. She ran with the concept and, together with Boyd, came up with a humorous tale of pandemic life. "We didn't want to write something dark because we figured people would want something light, especially after several months in lockdown at home," says Cobb.
The three-act opera tells the story of poor Emma, played by Hendrix-Case, who is stuck at home navigating virtual meetings with her boss and colleagues. At first Emma struggles with technology but, after a while, she gets the hang of her laptop and Zoom and eventually takes over for her boss, who has an unfortunate accident involving a cat.
The opera is visually and musically hilarious. Hendrix-Case, who grew up in Charles City, Iowa, wears giant furry slippers to her first virtual meeting and clips her hair up in a messy tangle. When she complains to her husband about a computer glitch, it's a trombone that responds. The effect is the same as the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons, and trombonist Anthony Williams, another UNI professor, does an excellent job of bringing Emma's partner to life. Rounding out the performance team is pianist Sean Botkin.
There's also an ongoing gag involving Elvis. Boyd is a music historian, and she studies aspects of rock and roll, including Elvis Presley. She keeps a velvet tableau of Elvis in her university office, a parting gift from her predecessor. The tableau makes an appearance in the opera, as do several Elvis magnets from Boyd's collection.
"We wanted people to smile, so we took extra measures to make that happen, and we had a lot of fun doing it," says Cobb.
For Hendrix-Case, who says she learned long ago to check her ego at the door, playing Emma was a great antidote to pandemic doldrums. "If I had thought about what I was doing during the opera, at the absurdity of it all, it would have gotten in the way of my performance," she says. "I look ridiculous, but I had fun with it."
We hope you'll join us at 7 p.m. February 11 for this special commission and celebrate the world premiere of Emma's Misadventures in Zoomland with us. This short opera will always be linked with the pandemic and will testify to the efforts we all made to keep ourselves and our communities safe during a most peculiar time.