Opera Conservatory wraps season with ‘Lady in the Dark’

Voice students of the Chautauqua Opera Conservatory run through a rehearsal for their final production of the summer, Lady in the Dark, Aug. 10 in McKnight Hall. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Zoe Kolenovsky
Staff writer

For their final performance of the summer, Voice students of the Chautauqua Opera Conservatory will present Lady in the Dark, a musical play from 1941 that stage director John Matusmoto Giampietro described as remarkable for its time.

“It dealt with psychoanalysis and therapy, which, at that time, was still a very sensitive topic,” he said. “In that sense, it’s a really sort of bold idea to put on Broadway in the 1940s.”

The Opera Conservatory is set to present their version of the production at 4 p.m. today in McKnight Hall. Matsumoto Giampietro noted that the play, with music and lyrics written by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, and book and direction by Moss Hart, had to be significantly cut down due to time and production constraints.

“It’s a huge piece. If we were to do the whole thing straight with no cuts, it’d be close to three hours long,” he said. “So we made significant cuts to the dialogue, but all the music is intact … and we still maintain the integrity of the story.”

The cast is composed of only 10 students, meaning that the ensemble members will take on multiple small roles throughout the play. Mezzo Hope Nelson, who plays protagonist Liza Elliot, will be the only performer with a single role.

“She’s a high-powered (fashion) magazine executive,” Nelson said of her character. “She has a very tight grip on her life and she has a romantic situation that’s kind of interesting … and she’s the one constant through the whole thing.”

Elliot is plagued with indecision and feels unsatisfied with her life, so she goes to therapy to have her dreams analyzed. These dream sequences make up the three musical numbers of the show; as Elliot describes her dreams to her therapist, the ensemble brings them to life for the audience to see.

“That little tiny, mighty ensemble brings a lot of energy and power to the piece,” Matsumoto Giampietro said.

Over the course of the performance, soprano Daisy Dalit Sigal appears as a maid, a portrait painter, a circus performer, and various other personas.

Voice student Hope Nelson, mezzo-soprano, performs as Liza Elliott in the Opera Conservatory’s production of Lady in the Dark. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

“It’s a very immersive type of staging,” she said. “There’s lots of interaction with the audience, especially because we’re doing it in McKnight. We’re using all of that space — not only inside but the grassy area around it, as well.”

The window-walls of the hall will be opened to give the performers more room to play this afternoon, enhancing the dreamlike quality of the show’s musical numbers by breaking down barriers of space.

Weill’s compositions for the show’s music make the production stand out, said Matsumoto Giampietro.

“This is more standard Broadway from Kurt Weill as opposed to the sort of cabaret-like Germanic edge that he usually … brings to his work,” he said. Though, he acknowledged that some of the more famous songs in the show do have a more recognizable touch of Weill’s style.

Dalit Sigal said rehearsals for the show, which began with preparing the musical numbers, has been a very collaborative process overall.

“It’s really a product of everybody’s input, all of the cast has been adding ideas,” she said.

Nelson agreed, saying that Matsumoto Giampietro’s leadership has fostered a supportive environment for the cast.

“We have a lot of say in the direction of the show,” she said. “It is such a weird show, so it’s been fun to figure out, ‘How are we going to make this work?’ ”

Members of the Chautauqua Opera Conservatory held their dress rehearsal of Lady in the Dark. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Today’s performance is especially important to the cast as the final event before their 2023 season officially wraps.

“This Week Seven is always bittersweet because we know we’re leaving, but it’s also the week where we really get to assess the immense growth that the students have had,” said Matsumoto Giampietro.

The students have been reflecting on their time at Chautauqua this summer, and many have commented that they’ve already noticed this growth in their artistry.

“Every time I come here, the faculty is amazing,” said Nelson. “Having lessons and coachings all the time really just makes us develop so much faster. It’s kind of a dream to be in a beautiful place and all you do is go sing every day.”

“I came with very high expectations because I knew some of the faculty and some of the other students,” Dalit Sigal said. “My expectations were not lowered — I’ve had an amazing time and met some really amazing people.”

Witnessing that growth makes all the efforts of the Conservatory worthwhile, said Matsumoto Giampietro.

“To see where they’ve come after all the lessons, after all the coachings, the productions, the impact that Chautauqua itself has on them … to see that growth just fills your heart with joy and love,” he said.


The author Zoe Kolenovsky