University professors bring worldwide opera premiere to Lewisburg

Madeline Diamond, Senior Editor

Professor of Music Annie J. Randall and Assistant Professor of Music Paul Botelho presented a unique take on opera through their production of “Proserpina: Two One Act Operas” at the Weis Center on Oct. 14.

This project began when Randall started restoring Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s original composition of “Proserpina” through a process called transcription, in order to make the work usable for today’s musicians. This was the piece’s North American debut and its first performance since 1778, since the handwritten score was thought to be lost until recently when Randall recovered the piece from the Darmstadt University in Germany. She worked with a former student of hers, Christian Humcke ’15, to restore the piece to playable condition.

Botelho is telling the same story of Proserpina through his piece, Proserpina: Act Two, although from a more modern approach. His interpretation uses electro-acoustic sounds, or “sounds for sound’s sake,” as he called them.

One of the most unique elements of the performance is the juxtaposition between the two pieces. Randall’s reconstruction of Goethe’s original work offers a historical representation of opera, from a modern and critical standpoint, with the help of  New York Baroque Incorporated using period instruments and the Bucknell Camerata chamber choir. 

Proserpina: Act Two on the other hand, uses nontraditional instruments and vocal experimentation to make the audience feel sound instead of just hearing it, according to Botelho. While both pieces can be viewed together or separately, the performance of the two monodramas demonstrated the versatility of opera.

Randall expressed that she was interested to know how students related and responded to the story.

“It’s a very contemporary story of violence and abandonment, focused on a young girl,” Randall said.

Even though Randall’s presentation of the opera is more traditional, the parallels between Proserpina’s story and those of many women all over the world are apparent.

“I see it as being a power story, where [Proserpina is] completely powerless against this force. What that force is, I always ask myself,” Randall said.

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