Trevecca students write, compose and stage an opera

It was a Friday night, and each of the college students—three seniors and two sophomores—already had plans for the evening. Yet, one by one, they canceled those plans, grabbed dinner and headed back to a computer lab on campus.

And they got to work, from 5 p.m. on Friday to 6 a.m. on Saturday morning.

They weren’t cramming for a test or trying to finish a group project before the deadline. They were writing an opera.

“That was the moment I realized how committed we were,” said Zach Cheever, a theory and composition major and one of the composers who canceled plans that Friday evening. “We had people making Wal-Mart runs for us, bringing us snacks and pizza. Someone brought us cake.”

The opera, Requiem for the Living: An Opera, was conceived, written, composed and staged entirely by Trevecca students. In April, they’ll perform the opera, twice on Trevecca’s campus and once at Nashville’s Noah Liff Opera Center.

The teamwork necessary to make the opera a reality extends far beyond midnight snacks and encouraging texts. According to Dr. Eric Wilson, chair of Trevecca’s music department, the opera was a team project from day one. The idea began as a Faculty-led Academic Research Experience (FLARE) project. Wilson, who wrote the initial proposal, designed it as an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental experience.

“The literary arts students actually crafted the story from scratch. It’s brand new; it’s not an adaptation,” Wilson said. “Our student playwrights, composers, and even some commercial songwriters helped us turn the story into the libretto, which is the text of the opera. The composers then set that libretto.”

Once the composers completed the libretto, the production team took over. They held auditions, cast the main roles and began rehearsals. Trevecca student Ingrid Rekedal is directing the opera, and Dr. Jeff Frame, professor of dramatic arts and communication, has been a helpful resource to the students as they plan to stage and perform the work.

Wilson’s initial proposal was for a one-act opera, maybe 30-35 minutes long. But Trevecca students have crafted something much more elaborate and sophisticated than he ever thought possible.

“I had anticipated having to write some orchestration here and there, but I haven’t had to write a stroke,” Wilson said. “They have owned it and they continue to own it. [The faculty] has only served as guides. They’ve done it all.”

The story follows a year in the life of four friends as they grieve over the death of another friend, Louise. Redemption and grace are significant themes, woven throughout the work.

For commercial music senior Christopher Rush, another of the opera’s composers, the prospect of seeing something he had a role in creating come to life is thrilling.

“I’ve only had one thing that I’ve written to this point performed,” Rush said. “To have something this big that I put this much time and effort into—to know that it’s going to be performed and that I’m going to have a role in performing it, it’s cool.”

Rush will play James in the opera, one of the five main characters whose deep grief creates isolation and conflict among the friends.

Wilson says few universities are able to offer this kind of experience to their students.

“I’m not aware of a school of any size, even some of the large opera schools that have something like this,” Wilson said. “There are independent operas being written, but it’s usually a one- or two-student kind of thing. But to have it completely conceived, created and produced by the students in a team environment—I’m not aware of any place that does that.”

Cheever, who also serves as the opera’s music director and conductor, agreed.

“I don’t know of any other undergrad music major walking out with an opera under their belt,” he said.

For more information about the opera, follow the project on Facebook.