UMSL Opera Theatre previews ‘Clever Artifice’ on ‘St. Louis on the Air’

by | Mar 13, 2020

Director of Opera Theatre Stella Markou and cast members Lexi Neal, Sophie Loban, Gracelyn Penn and Nick Bashaw shared their experiences.
From left: Cast members Gracelyn Penn, Sophie Loban, Madeleine James and Lexi Neal talked with "St. Louis on the Air" host Sarah Fenske and producer Evie Hemphill about their experiences putting on “The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret" as part of UMSL Opera Theatre. (Photos by Danny Reise)

From left: Cast members Sophie Loban, Gracelyn Penn, Madeleine James and Lexi Neal talked with “St. Louis on the Air” host Sarah Fenske and producer Evie Hemphill about their experiences putting on “The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret” as part of UMSL Opera Theatre. (Photos by Danny Reise)

Singing opera is hard enough, but try doing that while eating cake.

For University of Missouri–St. Louis junior Sophie Loban, that’s the best part of her role as Margaret in “The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret.”

“My character is the comedic relief of the whole show,” Loban said. “I get to eat cake on stage while singing. Fingers crossed, hope I don’t choke or anything, but it is really fun.”

On Thursday, St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU’s “St. Louis on the Air” host Sarah Fenske and producer Evie Hemphill got a chance to experience the production early through a segment on the daily noon talk show. That included both a live conversation with Fenske, Director of Opera Theatre Stella Markou and senior Lexi Neal, who plays Harriet, as well as Hemphill’s recordings from a rehearsal that included insights from Loban, freshman Gracelyn Penn and junior Nick Bashaw.

Though public performances of “Clever Artifice” have been canceled because of COVID-19 precautions, UMSL Opera Theatre will perform tonight for the cast members’ parents at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The performance will be recorded for public viewing at a later date.

UMSL students (from left) Gracelyn Penn, Sophie Loban, Madeleine James and Lexi Neal star in the Opera Theatre production of “The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret.”

UMSL students (from left) Gracelyn Penn, Sophie Loban, Madeleine James and Lexi Neal star in the Opera Theatre production of “The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret.”

The show, which Markou likened to the animated Pixar film “Inside Out,” features a conversation between two women while, simultaneously, the two players act out their inner dialogues.

“I think it’s everyone’s nightmare to have their inner voice projected on stage,” Markou said. “But what’s wonderful is opera in itself is an artifice. I mean, we go around singing. We don’t speak. Here you have your most inner thoughts sung at their highest level on stage. It’s really quite extraordinary to watch.”

The show, which premiered in 2013 and was written by Leanna Kirchoff, is a contemporary opera that presents new challenges and creative opportunities. This was apparent in the show’s aesthetic sensibilities, which Bashaw explained exhibited a “Marie Antoinette meets steampunk kind of vibe.”

The costumes were one aspect where the Marie Antoinette characteristics shone through. Neal discussed with Fenske the delights and difficulties of singing in a corset.

“It is hard, but in the same breath, it’s helpful because this show has a lot of beautiful music, but it’s also very challenging,” she said. “You have to learn how to properly use your breath support, and whenever you have that pressure on your stomach, it kind of teaches you if you’re getting enough breath or if you’re not getting enough breath.”

To listen to their whole conversation, which includes the on-air discussion and recordings from rehearsal, click here.

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Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen

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