Professor’s comic opera features faculty, students
May 11, 2012
The Music Department will debut an original opera by Lee Johnson, Fuller E. Callaway
Professor of Music, on May 14–15 at Callaway Auditorium. The shows will be at 7:30
p.m. and admission is free.
A pre-performance lecture and demonstration will be at 6:45 p.m. each night. It
will include a discussion with the composer, director and cast members about the
opera and the entire creative process.
“Demopera” is a joint effort between Johnson and his longtime collaborator, Clay
Powers of Columbus. In addition to the partnering work on the libretto, “Clay has
created unique, narrative and engaging pieces of art that are fully integrated
into the production,” Johnson said.
The performance will feature Dr. Toni Anderson, Department Chair, as Olga, a Russian
immigrant actress. The lead role was written specifically for her, and Johnson
said it has been fun to watch his fellow faculty member take the part and run with
“Toni is so great in this,” he said. “She has done a fantastic job.”
The cast also includes Dr. Michael Koon, Assistant Professor of Voice at Auburn
University, as well as LaGrange students D.J. Thomas, Austin Burns, Erin Hazelrig
and Kristoffer Appel. Each role was written specifically for each singer, Johnson
“This follows an established opera tradition. Composers of old would write pieces
for their colleagues to perform. Since they were familiar with their voices and
talents, the composers would write to match and highlight the singers’ strengths.”
Dr. Anderson said it “is a rare honor to premier an operatic role written specifically
“The same holds true for my students. Lee had the students’ talents in mind when
he created their characters, challenging them to a high performance standard,”
she said. “Being a part of the creative process from start to finish is something
they may never experience again in their entire careers.”
Austin said the experience has been valuable.
“It is an honor to have the characters written specifically for us,” he said.
“It does mean a lot to us as students and will look very good on our resumés. It
is another step in preparing us for careers in music and grad school.”
Anne Duraski, an Instructor in the Music Department, is serving as director and
“She’s making this show come alive,” Johnson said.
Duraski calls the process interesting and challenging.
“It is a wonderful honor and pleasure to work with the composer of a new operatic
work,” she said. “Lee is a very thoughtful, accessible composer. This piece
is a masterful mix of humor, whimsy, pathos and sobriety.”
Duraski said one of her challenges has been working with the multimedia component
of the show.
“The video portion of the presentation has equal emphasis with the stage action,”
she said. “One cannot overshadow the other, so it is a balancing act to bring both
to the fore with the proper emphasis.”
Duraski said working with the students has been a joy.
“They have worked hard to grasp their characters and to find the nuances of each,”
she said. “Each one of them has grown tremendously as actors and singers through
the experience of learning and performing ‘Demopera.’ ”
Dr. Anderson said it has been a treat to share the stage with her students and
“Michael and I bring our past performance experiences to the creative process,
and we in turn benefit from the students' youthful energy,” she said. “The symbiotic
relationship has yielded great results.”