Set during the Great Depression, rural Midwesterner Laurie Moss is on the brink of her high school graduation. But when she meets Martin, she falls in love with him and his exhilarating tales of life on the road. She soon realizes the opportunity that lies beyond the farm, leaves her family and heads into the unknown.
This past weekend, the Opera Theatre of Yale College presented this story in its spring production of American composer Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” in the Saybrook Underbrook. The OTYC is Yale’s entirely student-run undergraduate opera organization. The show marked Amanda Vosburgh’s ’19 first production as director, while Ian Niederhoffer ’19 served as musical director and Kohl Weisman ’19 and Raphaël Laden-Guidon ’19 co-produced the show.
“The story revolved around something that all of us as undergrads are familiar with — graduating and leaving home,” said Isobel Anthony ’20, who played Laurie in the opera.
Anthony noted that the production suited the group’s small cast size, adding that the group’s size is a strength.
“Nobody’s telling us to do this … we’re all doing this because for some reason, we’re all obsessed with opera,” she said.
Weisman, who also served as lighting designer, said that “[the OTYC] has always done a sort of DIY thing.” The production staff consisted of several musicians, and many singers and musicians took on production roles. While Weisman refers to himself as “not a lighting designer by trade at all,” he considers his role as “a great learning experience.”
Due to the limited audience capacity in the Underbrook, the OTYC tends to stick to what Weisman called a “minimalist aesthetic” for its productions. The group used a reduction of Copland’s original orchestration to accommodate the space. The orchestra consisted of 14 musicians playing woodwinds, strings and piano.
Though “The Tender Land” marks Vosburgh’s first experience as director, she calls herself a “long time operagoer” and has been involved in various roles in the OTYC over the past two years.
“My primary role is staging and all the things that go along with it. That involves everything from where they move, to also how they move as well as their facial expressions,” explained Vosburgh.
She considers the directing highly interactive and encouraged constructive conversations among the performers. She said the process “made the final product so much richer, and it made the whole process so much more fun for all of [the participants].”
Vosburgh said that the reduced orchestration required by the space also helps the singers stand out above the instrumentalists. She said that the orchestration “produces this beautiful, lush sound but at the same time, the singers don’t have to fight to sing over it.” She noted that the Underbrook proved to be the perfect space with the right acoustics for this production.
Dennis Brookner ’19, who performed as Laurie’s love interest Martin in the opera, said that “The Tender Land” challenged him “not only as a singer but also as an actor.” He said that though he is an orchestral musician, he found singing to be “a creative outlet and that [he] felt connected to the music in a different way than when [he] played bassoon.”
Brookner has been involved in three OTYC productions since his sophomore year and has “absolutely loved classical singing as a combination of all of [his] favorite parts of music.”
Many production members hold multiple roles. Vosburgh worked with costume designer Sarah Switzer ’19 to ensure each detail in the script was reflected in the performers’ costumes. She also worked closely with set designer Oliver Orr ’19. Vosburgh joked that she “didn’t imagine directing an opera would involve having a truckload of lumber in my common room.”
“Another reason why I felt like this was such a good choice for us, was because at the end of the day it really tells Laurie’s story — that’s what’s most central to it. I didn’t start thinking of it that way at first, but the more we worked on it, the more it became clear to me that’s what’s really at the core of the opera,” said Vosburgh.
Members of the cast felt as though Laurie’s story reflected a common coming-of-age experience.
“We’re trotting into new territory with every show we do,” Weisman said.
He added that several scenes are relatable for college students who eventually face the “post-graduation abyss.”
“I was thinking about graduating from Yale in this sort of way … all these questions about what comes next,” Vosburgh said. “While we’re here we sort of built these very rich lives for ourselves and then we graduate and it’s this whole other thing.”
Allison Park | firstname.lastname@example.org