‘Strawberry Fields’ showcases the music of life

By Joycelyn Fish

Campus Life Editor

Music speaks to everyone in very different ways. It can mend a broken heart, create cheer or tell a story. For the characters in “Strawberry Fields,” music is the essence of life.

“Music can really affect someone’s life and can be that glue that kind of holds them together,” explained Meghan Rinehart, the old lady protagonist and a double vocal performance and biochemistry major from Holmen, Wis.

Friday, Oct. 5 and Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 7 at 2:00 p.m., the Viterbo University Music Department will present the opera “Strawberry Fields” in the Fine Arts Center (FAC) Recital Hall. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for general admission and can be purchased at the FAC box office.

Ken Lauer, a senior vocal performance major from Waupaca, Wis. who portrays a graduate student, explained “Strawberry Fields” as “an old lady in Central Park who believes that the world around her is an opera house, and [she] is longing for the opera to begin.”

With music originally written by Michael Torke and libretto by A.R. Gurney in 1999 as part of a trilogy of operas that took place in Central Park, “Strawberry Fields” centers around John Lennon’s memorial in the park and takes place in modern times.

“It’s the first completely modern opera that Viterbo has done,” Rinehart said.

Since auditions last spring, the 21 cast members have worked with music director David Richardson, music instructor; vocal coach Dan Johnson-Wilmot, music professor; stage director Janet McLean, associate professor of theatre and music theatre; and assistant director Marie Freese, theatre major from Dodgeville, Wis. They have been researching, building their voices and characters, and began practicing on stage in early September four nights a week.

“It took a lot of time creating a back story for my character: deciding on [his] major, where he’s from, what his family life was like, etc.,” Lauer said about his characterization of the graduate student.

“It takes dedication and patience with the cast members to bring it all together and then have the courage to try something with their character and see if it works,” McLean explained.

The opera also addresses contemporary issues of dementia and its effects on family ties. McLean had students discuss their personal stories of dealing with dementia and apply them to the characters throughout the production.

Rinehart explained that in today’s society, “There are feelings of animosity between children having to take care of their parents and how they deal and figure that out and the parents aging and figuring out ‘I need to be taken care of, but I don’t want to be’ all at the same time.”

Mary Ellen Stolder, a new faculty member in nursing who specializes in geriatric care, will also be giving a short presentation before each performance on Alzheimer’s.

Although “Strawberry Fields” is a short opera, running about 36 minutes, Rinehart stated that “it’s an emotional rollercoaster.”

McLean encouraged the entire Viterbo community to support the students involved and try out opera. “How better to expose yourself than to a short opera, in English, that takes place now, in America with characters in your own peer group. I also just think it’s a good show. The cast is terrific.”

“My favorite lyric from the show is ‘A world without music is a world without love,’” McLean said. “To me, that is what the opera talks about. It doesn’t so much talk about dementia: it talks about the power of music to touch our hearts and heal our pain. And that’s universal. Most of us love music and this, more than anything, celebrates the power of music in our everyday lives.”

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