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'Brigadoon' beckons young artists to Brucemore

Matt Chastain

“Tommy”

“Brigadoon”
Matt Chastain “Tommy” “Brigadoon”
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A wee bit of magic is heading for the hills behind Brucemore.

As the mist rises in the gloamin’ — that’s “dusk” to you and me — the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre Young Artists will transport audiences to “Brigadoon.” It’s a Scottish village that only appears for one day every 100 years, and in this awakening, two New Yorkers on a hunting trip stumble upon its secret. A romance ensues, creating no end to the drama amid the gaiety of the townspeople who are thrilled to be carrying on their lives.

This place shrouded in mystery and history is well-suited for the amphitheater behind the mansion, and it’s well-suited for performers and viewers, too.

The setting, itself, is magical, said Daniel Kleinknecht of Coralville. He’s the founder and artistic director of the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, which is closing out its 20th season with this 1947 Lerner and Loewe musical.

“Those beautiful, bushy trees and the mystery of the woods — and then the mystery of Brigadoon,” he said. “The mystery of the geography will express itself really well, the way that first chorus sort of hauntingly insinuates itself from maybe a backstage chorus that comes from the woods, from the distance.

“It’s just so charming, and summer lends itself to this kind of music,” he said, pointing to operettas and the musical theater classics from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. “That beautiful, sort of old-fashioned musical experience that is somewhat forgotten but remembered in summer stock companies. ... It’s what I put together in my own head that’s really appropriate for summer weather — light operatic fare.”

And this particular show is “a good sing for these young people,” he noted. “The music speaks so vividly. The score is elegant, with beautiful melodies, nice choral pieces, like ‘Down on MacConnachy Square’ and the opening chorus of ‘Brigadoon.’ It’s just really good musical writing. They knew how to write melodies, knew how to write harmonies in that golden age of musical repertoire.”

It’s also an educational opportunity for the performers, who are working on their undergraduate and graduate degrees, or are launching their careers.

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“They have much more training in singing recitatives,” he said. “This is a good vehicle for training artists in how to deliver dialogue. ... It’s a different animal.”

In January, many of the 21 artists from across the country performed as understudies and in the chorus for “Turandot,” a full-blown opera presented at the Paramount Theatre.

“In this production, they’re not the understudies — they’re doing the real roles,” Kleinknecht said, with about two-and-a-half weeks of “intense” eight-hour rehearsals. Cedar Rapids Washington High School student Ian Wolverton-Weiss, a veteran of several operas, including “Turandot,” is appearing alongside them.

“He’s a gifted young musician,” Kleinknecht said. “That’s really an important part of what we do. For people like Ian to be able to sing next to somebody who’s got his master’s in voice is a really great learning opportunity, and I prize that about what we do. In January, what we do is have people with their master’s degree singing next to a professional singer. So we’re giving everybody context for life as a singer.”

That’s an experience Matt Chastain is relishing in the lead role of outsider Tommy, who falls in love with insider Fiona.

“It’s such a rare opportunity to be able to come in and be in an environment where there are so many new artists,” said the New Jersey native, 24, who has finished his first year in the master’s degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “In the winter in ‘Turandot,’ I was surprised how many young artists there were, and what a close-knit community we became so quickly.

“So it’s not just a great performing opportunity, it’s a great opportunity to meet people and work with people. Oftentimes we think, ‘Oh, we have to meet the person who’s going to launch our career’ or something like that. But I think it’s really important, as well, to be meeting my peers and to be getting to know the people that I’m going to be in this business with for a long time — and that’s what a lot of these people are.”

It’s a new experience for Stephanie Kim Johnson, 28, of New York, who is playing Fiona.

“This is actually the first time I’ve done this show,” the Carmel, Calif., native said. “I hadn’t heard of this show before.”

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But just as her character quickly falls in love with Tommy, she’s fallen in love with “Brigadoon” and the growth it affords her.

“Any chance to perform is always a great opportunity,” she said, and she’s glad to be returning to Cedar Rapids, after appearing in “Turandot” in January.

“Having a place where you can feel comfortable and work on your craft and just have exposure and the chance to perform is so valuable as a young artist. So that’s why I came back.”

Get out!

WHAT: “Brigadoon,” featuring Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre Young Artists

WHERE: Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater at Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. June 14 to 17

TICKETS: $25 adults, $15 students ages 6 and older, and Brucemore members; $30 day of show and at the gate; (319) 362-7375 or Brucemore.org

EXTRAS: Parking on-site at 6:30 p.m.; bring lawn chairs, blankets, picnics and beverages; no pets

OTHER EVENTS

WHAT: “Brigadoon” preview concert and other operatic favorites

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday (6/9)

WHERE: Indian Creek Nature Center Outdoor Amphitheater, 5300 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids

ADMISSION: Free, no reservations required

WHAT: Menotti’s “The Telephone”

WHERE: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Ave. SE

WHEN: 1 p.m. Wednesday (6/13)

ADMISSION: Free, no reservations required

ABOUT: One-act English-language comic opera, and other favorite arias

WHAT: “Brigadoon” program on Iowa Public Radio’s “Live from Studio One”

WHEN: Noon on Tuesday (6/12); IPR Classical or listen online at Iowapublicradio.org

ABOUT: Special performance and interview with host Jacqueline Halbloom and the cast of “Brigadoon”

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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