The Ozarks Lyric Opera’s 2022-23 season will begin with the world premiere of “Sweet Louisa”, an opera that tells a story of fact, fiction and the supernatural.
Performances will be September 30 and October 1, 7:30 p.m., at the Gillioz Theater, 317 Park Central East.
With this opera, OLO’s artistic director Michael Spyres continued to focus on new works.
“We chose to present this original opera written by local composer Katie Kring because it was a beautiful score and it addresses two salient current issues: our societal fascination with horror stories and the mental health crisis which results from extreme isolation.”
The characters in this opera must deal not only with the harsh climate of Lake Superior, but also with the sadness of isolation.
Kring and Rob Hartmann, the librettist, worked together on this project and many others. Kring is from Springfield. Hartmann runs a theater in Denmark.
This opera is filled with suspense, mystery, and weird things, including a doll named Sweet Louisa. The lighthouse keeper rescues a castaway who gives the doll to Mary Clara, a young girl. This is when the story becomes truly gothic and supernatural.
While the attraction of this story is the paranormal part, Marya Spring Cordes, the director of this project, also focused on the human aspect of the tale. It is made up of a few sailors and people from the lighthouse: the Keeper, the Woman, their young daughter Mary Clara and the governess Marthe. The small, tight-knit community lived in a harsh and unforgiving environment on the shore of Lake Superior in the early 1900s.
Cordes looked at the story of Marthe, the Sailors, the Wife and the Keeper, where women relaxed the rules of society for something as simple as providing sailors with coffee. “It shows how long there has been a community of understanding and caring. They have to come together to make sure everyone is okay,” Cordes said.
“It’s really interesting because a lot of the story has characters in distress when the doll comes into their environment and changes everything,” she said. Human relationships in opera help the audience to empathize with the characters.
Cordes will work with two children who have theatrical experience, playing the role of Mary Clara, one per night.
She loves working with children. “They (the children) have a lot of common sense and allow themselves to be empathetic; their imaginations are so incredibly vivid — more than adults’ — they can bring anything to their imagination in no time,” Cordes said.
The birth of “Sweet Louisa”
The opera originated after Hartmann visited his father in Eagle Harbor, Michigan several years ago. While there, he visited the lighthouse, where he found an old, spectral-looking doll. He wrote a short ghost story about it which eventually became the opera’s libretto. Immediately after reading the story, Kring demanded that they make it into an opera. However, it took until the pandemic for Kring and Hartmann to find time to write the opera.
The setting is Eagle Harbor, Michigan, November 1915-April 1916. Hartmann knows the lighthouse, the history of shipwrecks on Lake Superior, and the harsh winters.
Kring from Springfield has 30 years of experience as a composer. Moreover, she is a well-known local baker.
Some people may expect more explanation of the supernatural; however, Kring takes a different approach with “Sweet Louisa”.
“When you get into shows featuring goth humans versus supernatural forces, they have a feel,” Kring said. “It’s really easy to over-explain the mechanics or the metaphysics of the thing.” She and Hartmann want to leave some things unclear.
“We won’t explain that.” Kring said. “Is it a ghost? Is it a malevolent lake spirit? Is it the fruit of your imagination? We say nothing.
Opera always needs new works
Michael Spyres focused on the imperative to present new works about the current human condition. Opera was created throughout the ages for society to reflect on its own values, he said. To develop a new opera, all members of the troupe must start at square one.
“A lot of times it’s a frustrating process, because you have to not only learn new music but also create a character for the first time, and that can really push people to their mental and physical limits. … It’s an experience difficult but very exciting to bring a piece to life for the first time.
As OLO Executive Director Sean Spyres has said, without new works, opera would be “a dying art form”.
Where: Gillioz Theater, 325 Park Central East
When: Sept. 30 & Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $27.50-$47.50. All tickets are reserved seating
To buy: Go online at https://gillioztheatre.org or call the box office at 417-863-9491
Wife: Erica Spyres
The Guardian: Jamie Cordes
The sailor: Caleb Miofsky
Doyle: Jake Luellen
Martha: Emily Bowen-Marler
Mary-Clara (Friday): Max Duffy
Mary Clara (Saturday): Nathalie Hakala
cal: Spencer Jones
Fred: Zach Zielinsky
Harold: Brandon Sienko
Rehearsal accompanist: Vicky Claborn
Production stage manager: Susan Belcher
Assistant manager: Alandra Hutchens
Technical Director/Designer:John Johnson
Customer: Kashena Northrip