The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Hancher presents creative, collaborative modern opera with ‘Fierce’

“Fierce” is a 21st-century opera about four teenage girls facing the triumphs and tragedies of growing up. The show will run from April 26-27 at Hancher Auditorium.
DiDi Turley
©Aimee Sposito Martini

Nearly two years after debuting at the Cincinnati Opera, “Fierce” is coming to Iowa City’s Hancher Auditorium.

The 21st-century opera follows the trials and triumphs of four teenage girls as they discover their identities and purposes in the world. “Fierce” is running from April 26-27 at Hancher Auditorium.

Commissioned composer William Menefield and librettist Sheila Williams originated the opera at the Cincinnati Opera in 2022. The piece was created to mimic young women’s experiences coming of age in contemporary society.

For Williams, writing the libretto was a long process; many months were spent getting to know the personalities and experiences of real-life teenagers.

“I sat down with ten young women, and we talked about life … everything from ice cream flavors to their favorite version of ‘Doctor Who,’” Williams said. “From those conversations, I began to pull together the idea of ‘Fierce’ as a project that would illuminate the lives of four young women.”

While none of the four main characters of “Fierce” are based on a real person, their storylines are drawn from the overarching experiences of Williams’ group.

“I also wanted to explore the sisterhood that comes from shared experiences, and how important it is to support someone who is going through a tremendous transitional stage,” Williams said.

Williams’ “muses” in the show, whom she expresses these ideas through, are Morgan, Vesta, Nyomi, and Rumer.

University of Iowa third-year student Kate O’Connell will portray Rumer throughout the opera.

“Rumer is a dreamy character, one who is very in love with being in love. She also recently lost someone in her life who she loved,” O’Connell said. “She’s grappling with her grief and struggling with how to live her life again.”

As a classically trained musician, O’Connell feels that her involvement with the production has helped her to grow as a performer as much of the music is out of her comfort zone.

The opera’s music combines many different music genres including classical, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, and rock. Menefield developed the music for this production.

“The goal was to let the music be as organic as possible,” Menefield said. “Everything came as a result of me reading the libretto, thinking about what each character would sound like musically — What does the character tell me about their music?”

In addition to his role as the composer, Menefield is the stage director of “Fierce” and has enjoyed working with everyone involved in the production.

“It’s been a real treat. Opera is one of the world’s great collaborative genres, requiring so many different people and parts to make it work,” Menefield said. “We have a great team here at the University of Iowa that I’m blessed to be a part of.”

Trinity Woody, a dancer in the show, has loved getting the chance to perform at Hancher because it has allowed her to work and collaborate with others in performing arts.

“The original opera did not have dancing in it, so it’s been pretty cool to have no reference point. Hancher is amazing, and it’s surreal to be dancing on such a great stage,” Woody said.

The collaboration value of “Fierce” is not only felt in the opera itself but also either the entities that worked to produce it. The UI School of Music, Hancher Auditorium, and the Performing Arts Production Unit are working together to produce the show.

Hancher Executive Director Andre Perry said sometimes when people think of an opera, they think it will be ancient.

“But this story I feel is relevant to experiences that some of us are either going through or have been through. Or, if we’re old enough, maybe our kids are going through it,” Perry said.

Perry said the opera will showcase the level of talent the UI performing arts students have to offer, and how special a modern production like “Fierce” can be.


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About the Contributor
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.