“We have some really talented (students) in our music department,” said Dr. Shellie Beeman, assistant music and vocal director for BJU’s upcoming production of Così fan tutte. She and the other directors—Dr. Michael Moore, music director, and Jeff Stegall, stage director—can barely contain their pride for how the all-student cast has grown during preparation for the interpretation of Mozart’s comedic opera.
The Lyrical Story
Though Così fan tutte was first performed in 1790, BJU’s production will be set in the 1950s, creating the effect that Stegall calls “I Love Lucy meets Mozart.”
According to junior theatre student and assistant director Megan King, “the way that we are interpreting Mozart’s script … is slightly different from what is typically portrayed.” In the original portrayal, Don Alfonso hears two young men, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boasting of the fidelity of their fiancées. He contradicts them and bets that their fiancées will prove to be unfaithful because così fan tutte—so do all women.
In this production, Stegall has crafted the frame to portray Don Alfonso as being concerned that his two young friends are mismatched with the wrong woman. He makes a bet with Ferrando and Guglielmo to see if their fiancées will prove faithful. As the story unfolds, Don Alfonso and the girls’ maid Despina “dream and scheme” together. “Not only does this frame make the story less offensive to modern audience members,” said King, “it also makes for great humorous moments and plot twists our audience will experience.”
The Musical Humor
The antics of the characters aren’t the only amusing aspect of Così. Mozart wrote humor into the score, too. Said Moore: “There’s a hilarious scene where Don Alfonso is feigning this sort of panic attack … and Mozart gives the violas the melody at that point, which is kind of a musical joke. … I laugh every time. And he’s written some clever sound effects into the score as well; there is another scene in which the orchestra mimics the laughter of Ferrando and Guglielmo with these lightning-fast triplets in the strings. There are others, but I don’t want to give any surprises away. Another really funny moment comes when Despina disguises her voice. It’s all I can do to keep from cracking up while conducting!”
While the arias will be in Italian, the recitatives will be sung in English, and all will have supertitles. Beeman hinted the audience should “look for surprises in the supertitles.”
The All-Student Cast
In addition to King, who is both the assistant director and the stage manager, the majority of the crews and all of the cast are students. Rehearsal time, which began during first semester, was in addition to regular class loads, yet “they have put in countless hours to put on a high-quality production,” King said.
Students from majors other than theatre are performing, and the production provides valuable hands-on experience. Said Moore: “Collaboration is the name of the game when it comes to the arts. Not only does it require collaboration, but … it builds that soft skill that students can take into any field, and the fact that we’ve got lots of students across various divisions and departments collaborating on this I think is one of my favorite things.
“My favorite part of this whole thing is the fact that our students are getting this awesome opportunity to perform.”
Added Beeman: “I love seeing the students successful. I love that they get to do this. It hasn’t been an easy process. You’re looking at kids who are inexperienced because they don’t get these experiences. And to have watched them come so far, even just this semester, with blocking and acting, I feel like a proud parent. … It doesn’t matter what happens at the performance. You know, the three of us (directors) have talked about this multiple times. No matter what, it’s a success because our students get to do this.”
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. on March 13–14 in Rodeheaver Auditorium. Tickets are available online or by calling Programs & Productions at (864) 770–1372.