Three Decembers chamber opera to be performed this weekend in Coralville

Three Decembers is a chamber opera that will be performed at the Coralville Center for Performing Arts this weekend. The opera follows famous actress Madeline and her relationship with her two adult children over the span of 20 years.


Grace Kreber

The University of Iowa opera theatre program at a dress rehearsal for their show Three Decembers on Wednesday Nov. 11th, 2021 at the Coralville center for preforming arts. Three Decembers will be showcased at the Coralville center for preforming arts Nov. 12-14th.

Cassandra Parsons, Arts Reporter

The University of Iowa Opera Theatre will perform chamber opera Three Decembers this weekend at the Coralville Center for Performing Arts.

The opera follows the relationship of fictional American actress Madeline and her adult children over the span of 20 years. Three Decembers is a story told in 1986, 1996, and 2006, with music from the UI Symphony Orchestra playing along with the story throughout the performance.

Three Decembers is a one-act opera and has different pieces for each sequence in the opera: December 1986, December 1996, and December 2006. In the beginning, the musical numbers are used to help the audience become familiar with the three main characters. The last scene is one large musical number that the orchestra performs.

Three Decembers was written by composer Jake Heggie and originally performed at the Houston Grand Opera in 2008. The opera was based on Terrence McNally’s unpublished play, Some Christmas Letters, which made its debut at an AIDS benefit in 1999 at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City.

UI Director of Opera Bill Theisen said watching the opera is fascinating because audience members are able to see the relationship between the three main characters change over the span of 20 years.

“This opera has profound storytelling that bares the soul of each character with an intimate meditation about family,” Theisen said.

Theisen said Three Decembers was chosen for performance last spring because to the unknown future circumstances of the COVD-19 pandemic. He said the opera has a naturally socially distant element integrated into the storytelling because of the relationship between the characters.

There are two sets of casts for Three Decembers. One set will perform on Nov. 13 and the other set will perform on Friday and Nov. 14. This gives more performers the opportunity to learn from preparing and performing for a live audience. The cast has four graduate students and two undergraduate students performing this weekend.

The accompanying orchestra has only been rehearsing for a few weeks and will be playing in a pit near the stage. Wayne Wyman, an opera coach at UI, will be accompanied by Assistant Conductor and musical arts doctorate student Megan Maddaleno in orchestral conducting at UI.

“It’s a completely different experience than anything I’ve ever done before because you’re actually below the singers, you’re below ground level, and you’re kind of in this box of sound—it’s just a totally new skill set,” Maddaleno said.

The orchestra that plays along through the entire one-hour and 40-minute performance includes both undergraduate and graduate students, all of whom were asked to participate by the School of Music.

“It’s just been really great, and both casts have done an amazing job preparing for this. It’s going to be a great show,” Maddaleno said.