With the last words of Leonard Bernstein’s opera “Candide” fading into memory, the College’s Opera Theater bid farewell to Robert Parrish, its artistic director, at Sunday’s “Music of the Stage Gala.”
In its 10th year, the gala is a showcase of the musical talent within the College community. Backed by a full professional orchestra, students took the stage solo or in groups to perform classics from opera and Broadway stages.
This year’s program included both serious and lighthearted moments, but none more powerful than the finale. With Parrish conducting, the Opera Theater chorus and orchestra finished Bernstein’s piece to a standing ovation from the crowd of students, faculty, family and friends in Kendall Hall.
Parrish, who was an adjunct faculty member at the College before retiring three years ago, has worked with the Opera Theater as musical director, conductor and, most recently, artistic director, over the past 21 years. After retiring, he moved to Florida, but still found time to travel back a few times each year and work with the group.
“He remained incredibly dedicated to this organization,” Christina Ryan, senior communication studies major and one of the day’s performers, said. “He would travel over 1,000 miles three times a year or more in order to put on two mainstage productions and one gala a year.”
Because of budget cuts, Opera Theater is becoming a completely student-run organization. This means it will no longer have the funding to pay an artistic director. To send Parrish off on a good note, the students did their best to impress the crowd with a diverse repertoire, including pieces from Mozart and Georges Bizet to Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim.
The show was split into six acts, alternately conducted by Parrish and Philip Tate. The first three acts featured classical works of opera and the last three consisted of more modern Broadway numbers. Although the majority of the opera was in languages like Italian, German and French, the students showed impressive vocal talent and emotion during their performances.
Equally impressive were the more widely known Broadway favorites, like Porter’s “Anything Goes,” performed by senior vocal music education major Marie Ilg and the Opera Theater chorus. The number welcomed the audience back from intermission with swing and tap dancing by a variety of performers.
Another highlight of the show came with senior music major Kelly Regina Johnson’s rendition of “Rahadlakum,” a sultry number about virtue. The audience laughed as Johnson was carried onstage by two male performers and placed on a sofa like a princess. She proceeded to seductively traverse the stage while the men, acting as guards, tried not to be distracted. Opera Theater president James Holden provided some comic relief at the end of the song, hoisting Johnson over his shoulder and carrying her off stage.
The opportunity to hold such a gala is rare at many colleges and the performers appreciated the chance to showcase their talent. “The Opera Theater Gala is a prestigious event that most undergraduate schools are not able to do,” Holden, senior communication studies major, said. “Here at the College we are very fortunate to have had opportunities like this.”
The variety of performances, and the chance for group members to share the spotlight, made the gala a hit. While some of the performers are music students, the majority are not. “More than 60 percent of the people on this stage are not music majors,” Parrish said in his speech before the final number. “They just love musical theatre.”
And that love came through when the students, clad in tuxedos and gowns, took the stage, some for the last time. “Opera Theater has provided me with so many friendships and wonderful memories,” Ryan said. “No matter where I go after graduation, Opera Theater will always be a part of me.”