The University of Mississippi Opera Theater has a star crew aboard their upcoming production of “The Light in the Piazza” which will take place Friday November 19 and Sunday November 21 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts .
“Piazza” is the story that takes place around Magaret Johnson, a wealthy southerner, and her 1950s daughter Clara on vacation in Italy and the swirling love story in which Clara becomes entangled with a young Italian man named Fabrizio.
The six-time Tony Award-winning Broadway production based on the short story of Mississippi-born writer Elizabeth Spencer will observe what would have been the author’s 100th birthday last summer.
“We expect this could happen every summer,” said Nancy Maria Balach, chair of the university’s music department. “We’re going to have big productions with these students. We have them here and [professionals] work with our teachers and with our students. So we don’t train them to leave, we train them to stay.
Balach said she wanted people to be successful because of the Mississippi, not despite it.
“We are welcoming more people to become children of Mississippi or part of the Ole Miss family,” Balach said. “We are in competition with the nation and we should be inspired by the nation. “
An award-winning musical welcomes with it an accomplished and award-winning production team. “Piazza” will be directed by Opera Theater singer-songwriter and actor-in-residence Blake McIver Ewing, and musical direction will be provided by collaborating pianist and associate music professor Amanda Johnson.
Music and lyrics were produced by two-time Tony Award-winning composer Adam Guettel and retired actress and singer-songwriter Mary Donnelly Haskell, who bring their expertise to the service of students in the music department. this fall semester.
Guettel said his goal was to try and teach Ole Miss’s students technique and discipline while also bringing out their signature style by creating a whole new life inside the performers.
“No matter what you do, that relationship has to be forged,” Guettel said. “I’ve seen this happen with the wonderful young artists here. They know who they are and they need the technique to emancipate their artistic signature to allow it to express itself and allow it to cross the ramp and reach the public.
The student artists Guettel met as a visiting advisor to the university’s music department were well-polished in many ways and changed the way Guettel was to approach this upcoming production. Guettel has stated that the vocal ensemble he has worked with is as good as any ensemble he has worked with on “Piazza” before.
“I really enjoyed working with [the music students], Guettel said. “There is a lot of talent and a lot of musicality and there is already a lot of instinct there. If they are connected to how good they feel to sing correctly, safely, and happily, this is a physical memory you want to come back to.
Ole’s former Miss Haskell said it was an honor to reprise her role as Margaret after a performance of the musical in Los Angeles in 2009, where Ewing also played the male role of Fabrizio in the production.
“Singing, playing and playing this truly remarkable character and the lead role in the musical is a gift in itself,” Haskell said. “The circle has come full circle in a way. We make this wonderful piece, but back home in Mississippi, where Elizabeth Spencer was from, we can bring it to life at the Ford Center. “
Haskell said there were some differences in the way she approached the character 12 years later, especially due to the size of the room.
“Our production in Los Angeles was in a smaller house, so it was designed to reduce the size of the musical and make it more intimate,” Haskell said. “Whereas with the Ford Center everything has caught its breath and it’s just exquisite, so the music opens up again.”
She said that working with young artists is a special and useful experience.
“I was trained in music and vocals and I admit it was always ago – it was in the 70s – but in many ways I’m in the same building watching men and women full of hopes and dreams, just like my husband and I were, ”said Donnelly Haskell. “I think that’s what feeds me in this process.
Haskell said she and her husband Sam were happy to call Oxford home and travel to help students create the best moments of their lives.
“I think now, right now, I’m fusing what I love, which is singing and performing,” Haskell said. “Also, not that I teach these students, but I hope that I collaborate, inform them and in some ways inspire them to pursue their dreams like I did mine.”