Conservatory opera presents ‘Night in a Museum’ at Union Station

Joey Hill

The UMKC Conservatory last Friday at Union Station’s City Stage presented “Night in a Museum,” an expertly crafted selection of scenes from various operas chosen by the performers. It was directed by Marciem Bazell, with light piano accompaniment by students Richard Jeric and Jonathan Young.

The performance began with an interesting moment of exposition, with the singers standing and sitting on blocks, frozen in various poses like statues. This was the museum, and as the curator, student Vashti Goracke leaped and bounded around the performers. She silently gestured at secrets hidden within each block to a museum visitor she had in tow.

This beginning acted as a brilliant table of contents for the performance. It alluded to the works that would be performed while simultaneously immersing the audience in the performance’s world when Goracke “closes” the museum and continues to dance between the statues, bringing them to life with her touch.

The presentation of the scenes was kept to a largely minimalist style set design, using a very limited number of props, and at times even using other performers as elements of the set. A striking example of this was during student Laura Powell’s moving performance of American composer Samuel Barber’s work, “Sure on this Shining Night,” based on lyrics by poet James Agee. The performers collected in two groups, on either side of Powell, outstretching and bending their arms to appear like trees.

During some performances, a song was accompanied by a dance performance by Goracke. During Willow Parsons’ enthralling rendition of “Ideale,” an aria by Italian composer Francesco Paolo Tosti, Parsons stood still upon stage left. A spotlight shone directly on her while she held a gilded bird cage in her hands as Goracke proceeded to dance spryly around the empty space in center stage. It was the warm stillness of Parsons’ body and the aching, melancholic softness of her voice which blended with the constant and spastic movement of Goracke’s dancing. This bordered on either the most intricate and complicated of planned movements or the most inept of improvisational natures. Ccoming together, the two created a fascinating artistic dialogue on stage.

Multi-media effects were also employed in the concert during an operatic reading by student Christopher Carbin of selected excerpts from Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.” Carbin read as the other performers performed a shadow play on a screen far at up stage. Moments from Odysseus’ escape from the clutches of the Cyclops Polyphemus, as well as the tragic meeting with his mother in the Underworld, were acted out expertly.

The final piece was a work composed by Conservatory student Gavin Brivik. “Rapt In Reverie” was a chilling piece that used a combination of vocals by Evelyn Wouters, piano, and violin by Filip Lazoski. As a set piece, all that was used was a lone chair draped with a white shirt. Bathed in a ray of light beaming from the ceiling, the shirt glowed like a diamond piercing the low-lit stage and was accompanied by a slideshow of pictures of recently murdered student Aaron Markarian, to whom the performance was dedicated.

It’s this finish that gave the entire performance its incredible lingering effect, which would stick with the viewers even when they had gone home.

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