Actéon and Glory Denied

By Danielle Jones

Photo of opera students rehearsing in green costumes.
USC Thornton Vocal Arts & Opera students rehearse for their double-bill of shows this Friday at Art Share L.A. (Photos by Graycen Gardner)

The USC Thornton Opera program takes their spring performance to downtown venue, Art Share L.A.

This spring, the USC Thornton Opera program is taking the show on the road. On Fri., April 14, and again on Sun., April 16, they will present two one-act operas in the intimate space at Art Share L.A.

The USC Thornton Opera’s Spring production will present Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Actéon and Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied. Both feature unforgettable protagonists who are forever changed by an experience that forced them to confront their relationships with other people, the world and themselves.

Actéon, based on Ovid’s poem, Metamorphoses, tells the story of the demise of a prince Actéon at the hands of the goddess Diana. Glory Denied retells the true story of Colonel Jim Thompson, America’s longest-held prisoner of war.

An International Collaboration Continues

The Spring opera is led by guest stage director and vocal music lecturer at The University of the Arts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, J. Martina Roos. Last year, the USC Thornton Opera program collaborated with the Sibelius Academy on the premiere of All the Truths We Cannot See: A Chernobyl Story, which debuted in Helsinki before moving to Los Angeles. 

USC Thornton vocal arts Master’s student Krishna Raman, who was a part of the cast of All the Truths We Cannot See, will perform in the title character of Actéon this year. Raman explained that the opera is a unique production because its characters are so uninterested in love. 

Photo of a teacher leading an opera rehearsal indoors.
USC Thornton vocal arts & opera conductor and music director Brent McMunn.

“It’s one of the few Baroque operas I’ve done, and it has a very clear style to it,” Raman said. “An interesting and challenging thing to play with was embracing the style, but still feeling as though you have the freedom to express the text in a dramatic way.”

The structure of the opera’s music allows for experimentation and interpretation by the singing-actors as well as the musicians. Actéon features an improvisatory orchestra score. To help develop the small ensemble, USC Thornton Vocal Arts & Opera Conductor and Music Director Brent McMunn sought out faculty members from Thornton’s Early Music department, program chair Adam Knight Gilbert and faculty member Jason Yoshida, who will perform with the USC Thornton Symphony on the recorder and theorbo, respectively.

“I relied on them to help guide me with some of the specifics of execution,” McMunn said. “To the listener it will sound quite normal and quite lovely, but it is a slightly different world than we’re used to as musicians. So, it’s really rewarding for that reason.”

An Intimate New Space

The interdimensional travel between the human world and the realm of the goddesses and gods extends beyond the stage. Raman finds Actéon’s journey between the two realms reflective of the organization between social groups today. The smaller space of Art Share L.A., this semester’s venue, will emphasize a connection between the performers and the audience. 

“You can feel the energy of the audience way more, where they are right in front of you in a smaller space. And I think you feel a bit more like you’re directly speaking to people. I feel as though with those situations, there can be a little bit more of that connection between audience and performers — you’re feeding energy back and forth with each other.”

Photo of opera students rehearsing in green costumes.
The USC Thornton Opera’s Spring Opera will present Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Actéon and Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied. Both feature unforgettable protagonists who are forever changed by an experience that forced them to confront their relationships with other people, the world and themselves.  

USC Thornton Vocal Arts performance DMA candidate Corey Estelle agrees that Art Share L.A. will frame an accurate setting for the opera Glory Denied. Estelle will play Floyd James Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran who was a prisoner-of-war for nine years. To develop a deeper understanding of the challenges Thompson faced, Estelle read the biography. 

“From my character, I want the audience to see the pain of this injury. It’s one thing to read about something and it’s another to see it firsthand when something happens,” Estelle said. 

While the book helped Estelle realize the difficulties that military veterans and their families faced when adjusting to civilian lifestyles, the rehearsals where he had to sing on the floor demonstrated the importance of the varying perspectives of Thompson and his family. 

“Thompson’s life was hard too, but his wife was raising four kids on her own. In a way she was in a cage herself,” he said. “I think this show should open up people’s eyes to those of the people who serve and protect us. I think it’s important and I hope people take away the fact that there needs to be an understanding of what’s happening to everyone.” 

The opera’s music correlates with the emotional tensions of the narrative. 

“The story is not told in a defined chronological way. It’s more a weaving of real time and memories,” McMunn said. “It weaves in and out, so it’s a lovely emotional journey with the music, it goes hand in hand, taking you through a flow of these characters’ experiences.” 

The USC Thornton Opera program moves to Art Share L.A. in Downtown Los Angeles to present two one-act operas, Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Actéon and Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied. 

Friday, April 14, 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 16, 2 p.m.

Click here to learn more. 
TAGS: Vocal Arts and Opera,

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