Mburu and Redick

Senior music major John Mburu, left, and junior music performance major Bryce Redick, right, on the set of “What Men Live By.”

Lee University’s School of Music Opera Theatre is presenting two one-act operas, co-directed by Opera Theatre Director James Frost and his son, James Frost II, continuing this Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Dixon Center.

The opening opera is Giacomo Puccini’s “Suor Angelica,” and the night will close out with Bohuslav Martinů’s “What Men Live By.”

Senior music major John Mburu, who plays the lead role in “What Men Live By,” said that he enjoys the opera's tone to approach a message about Christ and serving the marginalized.

“I haven’t really seen a story like this portrayed in this manner, in the quirky cartoon kind of way,” Mburu said. “People think of God and they think of it being serious and almost solemn and heavy and in-your-face, but this will be very light in nature for almost the entirety of it.”

Mburu also said that “What Men Live By” is distinct from “Suor Angelica” due to English libretto.

“Very few people are going to come to ‘Suor Angelica’ and speak Italian and be able to understand it if their eyes are closed,” Mburu said. “So [the actor] really has to know what they’re saying and show it with their body and their voice.”

“Suor Angelica” leads the audience through the story of a princess whose family sent her to a convent after she had a child out of wedlock.

Senior vocal performance major Ivy Roberts, co-leading with Gabrielle Flannery as Suor Angelica for half of the performances, said that the tragic characteristics of the opera and the difference in language make it uniquely challenging to perform.

“When we first got the opera and we learned we were doing it in Italian, everyone was a little bit nervous, but we were all very excited because usually the operas we do are in English,” Roberts said.

For those concerned about whether they would understand the plot of “Suor Angelica,” director James Frost said he is confident that viewers will understand what occurs.

“Right before it starts, my son is going to lead [the audience] through a little bit about what the story [of ‘Suor Angelica’] is because he is also the speaker in [‘What Men Live By,’]” Frost said.

Frost said the use of subtitles or supertitles were considered for use in the performance, though he ultimately opted not to use them.

“Puccini is an emotional type of composer and I think [the audience is] going to get much more out of it just by watching and knowing sort of what is happening,” Frost said.

Echoing Frost's appreciation for the composer, Roberts said she also loves Puccini’s composition of “Suor Angelica.”

“Puccini is an amazing composer, and his music is absolutely beautiful. And he knows how to write very well for the voice,” Roberts said. “The opera itself is so aesthetically beautiful. It’s very sad and very painful to watch, but there's still an element of beauty in it.”

The opera performances begin at 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday night and at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are required for this event and are available at the Dixon Center Box Office, Monday-Friday, from 3-6 p.m., or by calling (423) 614-8343.

Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for children. Tickets are free with a current Lee University ID.

For more information about Opera Theatre or the performance, contact Lee’s School of Music at (423) 614-8240.

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