Butler opera presents “The Tender Land”

Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” tells the story of a sheltered Midwestern community whose comfort is shattered by outsiders.

Butler University Opera Theatre will perform “The Tender Land” Friday through Sunday at the Schrott Center.

Adjunct voice professor Mark Gilgallon directs the Butler Opera Theatre. According to his Butler faculty biography, Gilgallon is very familiar with American music and is “a former Artistic Ambassador to India, Pakistan and Bahrain for the United Information Agency.”

As an artistic ambassador, Gilgallon “performed concerts of American music for heads of state and other dignitaries with accompanist Catherine Bringerud,”according to his biography.

Music professor Richard Auldon Clark will be conducting the orchestra.  Described as “a fervent proponent of American music” in his Butler faculty biography, he was a favorable choice to conduct Copland’s opera.

“The music is what makes this opera what it is,” assistant voice professor Thomas Studebaker said.

The piece takes place on a Midwest farm in the 1930s. Laurie, a farmer’s daughter, is about to graduate high school. This was very rare at the time, especially for a girl.

Her family is getting ready for a big graduation party at the performance’s outset.

Meanwhile, two migrant farm workers come by and ask to work on Laurie’s grandfather’s farm. He is hesitant because he heard about two migrant farm workers assaulting a girl nearby and he wants to keep Laurie safe.

However, Laurie and one of the workers, Martin, fall in love at her party and decide to meet the morning after to elope.

Top, the other worker, convinces Martin to leave earlier than they had planned because he doesn’t think Laurie is meant to leave her town and says she doesn’t belong in the outside world.

Laurie wakes up and sees the duo has departed, but she leaves the farm anyway. She is ready to leave her sheltered community.

The last scene shows her mother holding on to Laurie’s younger sister, trying to protect her from what happened to Laurie while keeping her a part of the community.

“American opera is generally through-composed,” Studebaker said. This means the music is continuous and not repetitive.

“They also tend to be a little more realistic,” Studebaker said. “They’re not so melodramatic. They don’t have that fantastic goal or element common in older operas.”

The set was built in Tennessee by two men, one who works for the Nashville Children’s Theatre.

Studebaker said since the opera is set in the Midwest, the set is very skeletal.

“Light can get through it so that the audience can really feel the open space,” Studebaker said. “The music is beautiful, and the students have done a wonderful job with it. We couldn’t have done it without all of the help we got from the theatre department.”

“The Tender Land”

Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, 3 p.m.

Tickets: $5, students & seniors; $12, GA

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