A true story about bravery and the devastating losses caused by war will unfold as Associate Professor of Music Dawn Sonntag premieres her original opera “Verlorene Heimat” (Lost Homeland) at Hiram College.
The opera is presented as part of the Marcia Kenyon Bissell Musical Theatre/Opera Workshop, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on April 10 and 12, 2014, in the Renner Theater. The opera features 25 Hiram College students, three community members and two professionals. Admission is free.
Sonntag, who is no stranger to composing, took on this new challenge of developing her first opera to tell the story of her mother-in-law, a German living in East Prussia during World War II. The music she composed reflects the story; she drew inspiration from an East Prussian hymn and Jewish folk song.
“I have composed quite a bit of music for voice with piano or other instruments,” Sonntag said. “The challenge for the opera is that I had to write the libretto myself; I had to be always thinking of staging. It’s more than an hour of continuous music, so I had to make it all fit together, and the music had to reflect the plot at all times.”
The opera, performed and written in English, details the conflict that unraveled near the end of the war, when Eastern Europeans were trapped between the Russians and the Nazis. Sonntag’s mother-in-law was nine at the time, and her family sheltered a Ukranian Jewish girl, sent to work for them as a farm laborer.
Sonntag said she has always been inspired by this story, and conducted much research on European history during the 1940s in order to write a historically accurate plot. The characters in “Verlorene Heimat” use original family names.
She is very pleased with how her cast – many of them first time opera performers – is portraying these much-beloved characters.
“They have taken it very seriously,” she said. “I told them from the beginning, as they’re learning the music, they should be in character: not just singing notes, but really delving into the character and expressing the character’s personality.”
Sonntag also praised the behind-the-scenes crew: theatre arts technical director and designer Carl Skorepa, who designed the set and lighting and theatre arts major Elidia Hernandez ’15, who designed the costumes.
She hopes the premiere is just the beginning for “Verlorene Heimat.” She has already been in discussion with Holocaust historians, who have expressed interest in having the opera performed at an upcoming conference, and this summer, she plans to travel to Berlin to explore additional possibilities.
Cleveland’s German Honorary Consul Diana M. Thimmig will give opening remarks before the April 12 performance. For more information about the upcoming performances, please contact the Hiram College Music Department at 330-569-5294.
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Photos by Alan Fink ’17. View more on Flickr.