As the old saying goes: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
This well-known proverb rings especially true in the discussion of UW-Eau Claire’s upcoming mainstage production: “Threepenny Opera”. In a world plagued by COVID-19, the Department of Music and Theatre Arts has worked exceptionally hard to continue making art while still being cognizant of national/state health regulations.
Among these efforts has been the choice of “Threepenny Opera”, music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht (Blitzstein English translation) as the spring opera performance. Dr. Ken Pereira, Associate Professor of Music-Voice at UW-Eau Claire, is at the head of this creation and has teamed up with several of his colleagues to create a show like no other.
Realizing that his original choice for the university’s opera was impossible due to COVID safety restrictions, Pereira returned to the drawing board and brainstormed potential replacements that would be feasible in light of a pandemic. He was optimistic in his search. “You could say they’re constrictions, but really they’re just parameters,” he states.
After a while of searching, Pereira stumbled upon Weill’s “Threepenny Opera”, a piece that is described by many as being a “play with music.”
“‘Threepenny Opera’ at its core is a socialist commentary or take on capitalism,” says Dr. Pereira. At the same time he was searching for a replacement for the spring production, Periera reflected on the effects of our capitalistic society and the global pandemic on the lives of artists and the arts in general. “Threepenny Opera” quickly became the perfect choice as the storyline holds high relevance in today’s world. Moreover, it’s one show in particular that allows for abstract narration and different possibilities for how the story is told. This is very favorable for staging as all cast members are required to be mindful of health and safety protocols when performing.
Even more fascinating than the story being told is the text that is being delivered by each of the characters.
“The text is so important in this piece,” says Pereira. He argues that it's because of this richness in text that performers have an artistic obligation to deliver those words with as much clarity and honesty as the text is suggesting. Although principal characters will be limited in their stage movements due to health and safety guidelines, Pereira maintains that perhaps this is an opportunity rather than a setback. “What a wonderful thing to learn how to do, stand and perform a song while being in every moment,” he says. “If you can take that into any audition, and really deliver a lyric in a song, you’ll get hired.”
Dr. Pereira is optimistic about the journey ahead with this piece. He is thrilled to once again be working with choreographer Ariella Brown, Lecturer of Theatre Arts-Dance at UWEC, whom he had praised for running with all these quirky ideas. He also adds that the opera production is the one event where all parts of the department: Music, Theatre, [AND] Dance are brought together, and it’s great to collaborate with colleagues from these various areas as well as the students from across the department. “Personally, it's been really gratifying, so far, to see how we've come together working on it, and I’m excited for the rest of the process.” says the director.
In his closing remarks, Pereira offers this thought: “Art will ultimately survive and art will continue to be created in spite of restrictions. If anything, art can be better because it works through the restrictions. We still all have that need in all of us to create, and to create beauty or comment on the state of the world. And it's wonderful that we have the opportunity to do that with this piece.”
“Threepenny Opera” runs from May 6-8 at 7:30PM and May 9 at 1:30PM via livestream.