Acis and Galatea, SIUE’s student opera, toppled with high school caricature portrayals

SIUE opera performers Sarah Paitz and Ben Rardin with Tyler Green looking on

SIUE’s classically trained operatic singers juxtapose their performances with armpit sniffing, book-slapping and nerd-mocking high school playacting. It smells like teen spirit; it reeks of high school awkwardness; but it’s to the music of one of George Frideric Handel’s most well-known operas- “Acis and Galatea.”

The modern twist by SIUE’s music department of “Acis and Galatea” combines romantic arias with spontaneous slapstick humor and action.

In the opera, Acis, played by Ben Rardin, a senior vocal performance major, is a high school nerd. In the original version, Acis was a shepherd of the pasture. Acis finds himself bullied by a football team captain, Polyphemus, played by sophomore vocal performance and music business major, Tyler Green. In the original opera, Polyphemus was a villainous Cyclops giant.

True to the original plot, Acis and Polyphemus both vie for the love of Galatea.

According to Schapman, Acis’ character arouses easily over physics formulas yet is smitten with Galatea, a teen queen. His renditions are moving and virtuosic, yet his character is pathetic and wimpy in a light-hearted way. The audience could easily laugh with him not necessarily at him. It’s because he is a character to sympathize, struggling to find self-esteem in a hostile high school environment.

Green said the bullying role of Polyphemus is completely the opposite of who he is.

“It’s a good challenge to stretch my acting skills,” he said.

Rardin said he was “pretty geeky” in high school.

“So you try to pull from past experiences if you can,” Rardin said. “Acting involves meaning what you do.”

Music professor and director of “Acis and Galatea” Marc Schapman used his knowledge from having performed the adaptation twice in the past. During rehearsal, he guided and encouraged students in their acting and rehearsed the many notes of music they have been studying since April.

Like a rubber band, the actors fling off insulting looks, exchange smirks, and grab and pull at each other, according to Schapman.

“But with all the fun and play, comes serious learning of a lot of music and rehearsal,” Schapman said.

The SIUE opera double cast the lead female role, Galatea. Sarah Paitz, a sophomore speech pathology major, will perform in Friday’s production while Kaitlyn Ritcheson, a junior theater performance major, will perform on Saturday.

Galatea was originally a semi-nymph in Handel’s opera.

According to Paitz, Galatea in the adaption is the equivalent of a goody two shoes valedictorian and student council president.

“Her character is studious; somewhat of a know-it-all teacher’s pet…innocent and flirty. Yet she has a dark side, debonair quality,” Paitz said.

According to Ritcheson, Galatea is controlling, manipulative and full of herself.

“People look up to her,” Ritcheson said. “She can get what she wants and she knows it because it’s always been easy.”

Other roles include a tough and domineering coach, played by sophomore vocal performance major Julie Engelsdorfer.

She said improvised humor has been something she’s done much of her life.

“I’ve always been kind of the class clown,” she said.

According to Schapman, the coach and janitor power-struggle it out in the form of a defunct mating dance. He tries to kiss her hand. She shakes her fist at him. During the whole process, they recite an aria consisting of acrobatic runs in the melody.

“Their wooing and aggravating plays out until her repressed hormones kick in,” Schapman said. “Then they stroll offstage for a quick fling.”

Opposite of coach is the serious authoritative school principal, Damon, played by Jennifer

Brauer, a graduate student studying vocal performance. In a morbid death scene where many characters mourned, she suggested her role as principal play out to be more concerned with completing her incident report to add to school records.

“We have all been in high school and can certainly sympathize with the awkwardness, drama and humor found in this rendition,” Schapman said.

The productions will take place Sept. 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m., in Abbott Auditorium in Lovejoy Library.

For tickets call the SIUE Box Office at 618.650.2774 or (toll free) at 1-888-328-5168, ext. 2774. SIUE students get free admission to the performances.

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