On March 15 and 16 the University of Saskatchewan’s Music Theatre Ensemble will be putting on a production of The Beggar’s Opera.
A ballad opera in three acts, The Beggar’s Opera was originally written by John Gay in 1728 with music arrangements by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It was later rewritten in 1948 by Benjamin Britten.
“This show is a little bit different because it’s early Broadway,” said Erica McFadden, one of the members of this year’s Ensemble.
“It was written in 1728 when English music started coming into its own and so The Beggar’s Opera is the beginnings of Broadway,” McFadden said.
The Ensemble’s work is largely done in excerpted scenes from full-size works, taking the form of either opera, operetta or Broadway.
With two shows each school year — one at the end of each term — the performances can vary vastly. The first term takes the form of an opera or operetta show, with themes like “Mozart Operas” and “Bad Boys of Opera.”
“It’s all opera but it will be a specific composer and then we take excerpts from different operas and put them together,” McFadden said.
For the second term, the Ensemble’s show takes the direction of Broadway. The Beggar’s Opera is still classified as a Broadway show but is what McFadden describes as “opera style.”
The Music Theatre Ensemble has been in existence for 30 years at the U of S. It came under the direction of Dr. Garry Gable 17 years ago, who also serves as the Director of Music Theatre at the U of S.
The Ensemble is an auditions-based class that counts as one university credit per year of involvement. It is also open to students outside of the department of music, as anyone is welcome to audition.
“It is auditions-based because you do need to have a level of musical knowledge to be in the class,” said McFadden. “We do try and make it on a level of professional performance.”
McFadden is in her fifth year at the U of S pursuing a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance. This is her third year of involvement in the Ensemble and she describes it as a great learning experience.
“It’s a class that you get credit for and you learn how to be a solo singer in an ensemble,” McFadden said. “It’s an opportunity to learn how real theater works.”
While it is based out of the department of music, members come from many different areas of study at the U of S.
“We have 22 people this year. We’ve had a nursing student, an agriculture student, English students, drama students and then vocal and instrument majors,” McFadden said.
The Ensemble practices three days a week, with extra intensive weekend practices occurring twice a year.
“The intensive weekends are to get the bare bones staged so that we can have the beginnings of a show developed,” said McFadden. “We’re expected to do a lot of work outside of class as well.”
This is the first year that the U of S’ drama department is helping out with costumes and some of the sets.
“We have costumes, we do our own make-up and we have props. We do as well as we can to stage the entire thing. It’s usually very simple sets, but we do still have sets,” said McFadden.
The Beggar’s Opera is accompanied by pianists Eric Bews and Kathleen Gable, the latter being the musical director and rehearsal pianist for opera and musical theatre productions in both Canada and the United States.
The Ensemble is additionally partnered with The Opera Troupe of Saskatoon, which allows its members to participate in productions with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.
Aiming to deliver an enjoyable live theatre performance, the Ensemble provides entertainment in a relaxed atmosphere.
“It’s family-friendly, fun and it’s a chance to see good theatre for cheap,” McFadden said.
Overall, McFadden said her favorite part of the Ensemble is its great learning environment.
“I really enjoy the people that I work with in the class. It’s fast-paced but laid back at the same time and it’s a lot of fun,” McFadden said. “It’s really the only ensemble where there is any kind of solo aspect that you can actually get solo performance work that is close to what you would get in the professional world.”
The Music Theatre Ensemble will be performing The Beggar’s Opera on March 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the U of S’ Quance Theatre. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students and are available at the door.
Naomi Zurevinski / Culture Editor
Photo: Music Theatre Ensemble / Supplied