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ISSUE 119 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/24/2006

Young artists craft bold projects

By David Benson-Staebler
Staff Writer

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ole creativity flourishes this spring in the forms of a musical, an opera and a feature film.

Martin Luther and Abram (Abraham) are peeled off their stuffy historical visages in a musical and an opera respectively. They are presented as real people as recognizable as the St. Olaf faculty.

The libretto of the forthcoming opera, “The Binding of Isaac,” was written by Jason Zencka '06.

"Most of Genesis is about God creating man,” Zencka said. “But the Abram story is about man creating God.”

Matt Peterson '06, the composer of the opera, gave a historical example of the composer and librettist partnership.

“Mozart wrote the opera of Don Giovanni and Lorenzo de Ponte wrote the libretto,” Peterson said. “I [still] give an hour or two a day [to the Opera].”

“The Binding of Isaac” will make its debut run April 29 and May 1.

Assistant Professor in Music Theory and Composition Justin Merritt suggested to Peterson last fall that he compose an opera to be produced at St. Olaf, and Peterson immediately thought Zencka would be a good collaborator. Merritt facilitated the project and proposed the Abram story.

The Abram story is grisly, with adultery, infanticide and war. "[They are] a very dysfunctional family. [The characters are] needy, ambitious and hopeful,"” Zencka said.

Associate Professor of Music Voice Opera Janis Hardy, an experienced performer, is directing the performance.

Peterson and the four-member cast are receiving course credit for the opera. The cast is Abram (Eric Neuville '06), Sarai (Laura Wilde '08), Hagar (Julia Langenberg '06) and Isaac (Sarah Smith '06).

“"These relationships are varied: man and his perceived God, man and wilderness, husband and wife, a love triangle, father and son,”" Peterson said.

When asked to classify the opera, Peterson explained: “"The music is 'romantic expressionism' if I had to put a silly 'ism' on it. It is scored for string quartet, harp, percussion and horn."”

In a letter to inform area media about the performance, Peterson wrote, “"The libretto is a new interpretation [of the story] inspired by readings from sources as varied as Kierkegaard, the Qu'ran and the Jewish mystics.”"

Given his somewhat unorthodox view of biblical interpretation, Zencka, the son of a Presbyterian minister, explained his faith.

"Yes, I am definitely concerned with God,”" Zencka said. “"I am certainly aware that a functional understanding of God takes a certain amount of work. In writing a libretto, I have been concerned with the dilemmas that might occur during that receptive process.”"

The philosophy of the piece also relates to our community.

“"The work is like St. Olaf: religiously, existentially, informed. It is honest, open … a lively internal and external debate within the religious community here about defining the relational components of our faith,"” Zencka said.

Another duo of seniors is completing a musical work this spring. David Varvel '06 and Peter Bodurtha '06 are writing and producing “Martin Luther the Musical.” Artistic Director of St. Olaf Gary Gisselman is guiding their theatrical adaptation. Rachel Geffers ‘06 is writing the score, and auditions for the show will be held soon.

To describe the style of the piece, the two agreed with full sarcasm that Andrew Lloyd Weber fans should stay home.

The two punsters have a band called “Chernobyl: The Musical,” named for the title of their physics class project, a short musical they made their first year. “We play for free drinks and food at the Cow,” Bodurtha said.

Songs include “[Blank] on Satan” and “Attack Naples.” The later satirizes Pope Leo X's military conquest of the city of Naples. The musical numbers have the feeling of show tunes and Disney songs, though the style of the show is far from Rogers and Hammerstein.

“It is the definitive account of Martin Luther's life; that is true,” Bodurtha said.

Auditions will take place shortly after spring break and the performance will take place on May 13 and 14.

Another producer of creative work at St. Olaf is filmmaker Russel Anway '07. Anway is producing a feature film dealing with time travel. "I wrote the proposal last year and got a [Finstad] grant for $1,700,"” Anway said.

He is not working directly with faculty, but Associate Professor of Art and Art History Meg Ojala helped him in the initial stages.

“"[She] helped persuade the Finstad Grant Committee,"” Anway said.

Anway is tactfully rebellious and has undertaken an immense responsibility. Professor of English Eric Nelson encouraged Anway to complete a short film before taking on a feature-length one.

“"Eric Nelson is reservedly helpful. He sees the difficulties of making films. He saw my film as a failure waiting to happen,"” Anway said.

Many of the students involved in these projects intermingle socially, often debating and exhanging ideas. For instance, Anway is a good friend of Zencka's.

“My room is a hangout place. I come back and Zencka is there playing board games,” Anway said.

Anway is from Northfield and uses his friends to access filming locations such as inside Hogan Brothers and a family farm. Ole friends like as Ian and Adrian Vaagenes '07, next-year's co-presidents of Film Club who have been around during the summers, have taken roles on Anway's current and past productions.

Anway has already had a few adventures while filming; once he was questioned by police while filming with fake weaponry in Northfield. "The law says that if you are welding a weapon in public, [it is a] crime even though it is just a film,”" Anway said.

Anway is still cautious about filming in Northfield. "You can't make a career out of writing about things that have happened in Northfield. You would have to be pretty creative I think,”" Anway said.

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