Huntsville is about to get a whole lot more cultured thanks to Opera Huntsville’s upcoming series, an operatic performance bespoke to the Rocket City called Gilbert and Sullivan in Rocket City.
We sat down with Erin Huelskamp, stage director of the production, to get some insider insight on challenges, highlights, and what to expect, but first, some background on this eclectic experience.
According to Opera Huntsville, “Gilbert and Sullivan in Rocket City is a one-of-a-kind production set in Huntsville and highlighting each of the 14 operas created by the iconic duo W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (G&S).
This show combines some of G&S’s best-known pieces such as Three Little Maids, The Matter Trio, and Poor Wandr’ing One with brand new, clever dialogue by G&S lover and expert, Jaie Deschene. Tailor-made for Opera Huntsville, the three little maids transform into three little engineering nerds from UAH. The nerds wander through Rocket City building robots, spaceships, and, of course, looking for love. Hilarity ensues.
This fully staged, hour-long production features ten stellar singers alongside the Calhoun Chorus and a nine-piece orchestra. Set outside, performed with masks, and socially distanced, it should be an experience that brings musical excellence and a sense of joy to Huntsville. The singers and the orchestra will be amplified in order to hear them clearly while outside and masked.”
HuntsvilleMusic.com got a chance to interview stage director Erin Huelskamp, who shed some light on why this production is a must-see for opera lovers and Huntsvillians alike.
“I think that one of the coolest things on earth about Huntsville [is that it’s the Rocket City], and to have an opera that engages with that is just really fun. There are lots of little things that reference Rocket City in the show. In some of our opening lyrics, we say, ‘if you marry me, a rocket I will build you.’ Of course, that’s not the original lyric, but you’ll notice lots of cute things like that.”
Lyrics aren’t the only thing that were changed to accommodate the current climate, however – the show will be performed outdoors, something that’s unusual for an operatic performance. But Erin and her troupe aren’t deterred – in fact, they’re excited.
“[Our outdoor venue choices] were definitely influenced by the pandemic since we knew we needed someplace safe. Burritt on the Mountain and the Huntsville Botanical Gardens are so iconic in Huntsville, and it was exciting to be able to partner with them and present a show in a way that we hope is going to be as safe as possible for everyone involved.”
And when Erin says everyone involved, she means everyone – musicians, chorus members, and singers included. Which means masks for performers, which in turn calls for bigger performances.
“We’re going to have to engage a little bit more in what would be considered a grand opera staging where you use your body in its entirety to tell the story. If you can imagine how operas are usually performed, you would have people in nosebleed seats who could only kind of see the performers on stage through binoculars or what have you. People who are performing in those venues have to use big gestures because you’re playing to a house that’s huge. Even though we’re small, we’re masked, so we’re going to have to engage in a similar way.”
But Erin doesn’t sound deterred by the twist on a traditional smaller-scale operetta performance. In fact, she sounds excited by it, eager to share her and writer Jaie Deschene’s brainchild with the city that inspired it. Her enthusiasm is infectious, especially when she promises pirates – “you can’t do Gilbert and Sullivan without pirates!” – and spills over as she promises a good time for everyone, regardless of age or familiarity with opera as an art form.
“It’s intentionally kooky, it’s intentionally fun and random. I hope people enjoy it and have a good time. We want to make you laugh – there’s been too much heavy. We hope to make you laugh and enjoy our city.”
For more information and to grab your tickets, visit https://www.operahuntsville.org/gilbert-and-sullivian.
Gilbert and Sullivan
in Rocket City
Friday 4/9/21, 7:00 PM, Huntsville Botanical Gardens
Saturday 4/10/21, 2:00 PM, Huntsville Botanical Gardens
Sunday 4/11/21, 7:00 PM, Burritt on the Mountain
And for more information regarding instrumentalists and additional artistic staff members, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
*denotes Huntsville-based performer
Shane Kennedy, tenor*
Charles M. Anderson, tenor
Amanda Nelson, soprano
Rachel Eve Homes, soprano
Celese Sanders, soprano*
Sierra Hammond, soprano*
Rachel Gibson, mezzo soprano
Chauncey McGlathery, tenor*
Justin Colon, baritone
Xavier Joseph, baritone
Erin Huelskamp Bohn, stage director*
John South, music director*
Calhoun Chorus, directed by Granville Oldham*
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Grace is the Content Director of HuntsvilleMusic.com and lives in Madison, AL, which really isn’t that far, guys.
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