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A dark story ends with reconciliation in spring opera

September 11th, 2017

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College opera audiences may have come to expect comedic or farcical productions – but not this time.

Nonetheless, the message of the deeply dramatic Iphigenia in Tauris is one of forgiveness and redemption, says music director Chris David Westover, Bethel director of instrumental music.

The Bethel music and theater departments will present Christoph Willibald Gluck’s lyric drama in four acts March 11 and 13 in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

The Friday performance is at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday matinee is at 3 p.m. Tickets are on sale in Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center, or at the door, subject to availability.

The opera and the performance times differ from printed calendars.

Although start times are later than originally planned, Westover cautions: “Don’t come late for this opera. There is no overture – Gluck thought the overture was a convention that detracted from the drama, so he didn’t write them.”

When planning for the 2016 Bethel opera began, the initial choice was Carmen by Georges Bizet.

When it became clear that would have to change, Westover, in consultation with Soyoun Chun, Bethel instructor of voice, and John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts and stage director, began looking for another opera with a similar voice set-up.

“I thought about what other productions I had done,” Westover says, “and what was suited to the voice talent we had.”

Westover was assistant conductor for the University of Oklahoma production of Iphigénie en Tauride in October 2012.

One thing that distinguishes this opera is that it is a successful sequel where almost none exist in the genre.

Gluck’s 1774 Iphigenia in Aulis is based on the classic Greek story of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his young daughter, Iphigenia, as he is about to sail for Troy to reclaim from Paris his sister-in-law Helen.

Iphigenia in Tauris, which premiered in 1779, reveals that Iphigenia was rescued by the goddess Diana and magically transported to Tauris in Scythia where, as high priestess, she is forced to carry out human sacrifices on orders of the barbaric King Thoas.

The drama deepens when Iphigenia’s brother, Orestes, and his best friend, Pylades, are shipwrecked in Tauris and set to become the next sacrifices – until the siblings finally recognize each other.

“What’s interesting,” says Westover, “is that as heavy as all this is, only one person dies, and it’s the villain. The story ends with a changed view of the gods, or of God, as a God who doesn’t require sacrifice but offers forgiveness.

“It’s about reconciliation. What was unreconciled at the end of Part 1 [Iphigenia in Aulis] is now given a chance for redemption in Part 2. It’s a really uplifting ending.”

“I think the high drama will play,” adds McCabe-Juhnke. “It’s a serious show, and the staging is helping to bring that together.

“We have great classical scene design by Ethan Koerner and a very talented choreographer in Danika Bielek.”

“The music is stunningly beautiful,” says Westover. “This was the favorite opera of both Wagner and Berlioz, and the reason they both gave themselves completely to music and started writing operas themselves.”

For Bethel’s Iphigenia in Tauris, there will be guest artists in the title role of Iphigenia and in the role of King Thoas.

Monica Schmidt will sing Iphigenia. A graduate of Haven High School and Bethel College, she is the former language arts teacher at Moundridge High School and now teaches at Maize South High School.

She has studied at Canta in Italia, the summer voice and opera program that Wichita State University coordinates in Lucca, Italy.

Andrew Voth will sing Thoas. The Topeka native is also a Bethel graduate and is the vocal music teacher and choral director at Goessel High School.

Ryne Preheim, sophomore from Reedley, California, appears in the role of Orestes and Shekhinah Jones, sophomore from Salina, as Pylades.

Members of the Bethel College Concert Choir, Bethel College Women’s Chorus and Bethel College Men’s Ensemble will appear in smaller roles and in the chorus parts.

These include Abigail Schrag, Newton, as Diana; Joshua Booth, Goessel, as Dream Orestes; Jazmynn Burris, Winfield, as 1st Priestess; and Kate Jolliff, Newton, as 2nd Priestess.

The Chorus of Priestesses are Kylee Addis, Mount Hope, Abigail Bechtel, Henderson, Nebraska, Stephanie Brown, Newton, Kimberly Carbonell, Wichita, Candy Dao, Salina, Leah Friesen, Henderson, Nebraska, Emily Epp, Marion, South Dakota, Makayla Epp, Marion, South Dakota, Emily Knight, Moundridge, Shannon Neifert, Pratt, Michelle Schrag, Moundridge, Jaime Tschetter, Freeman, South Dakota, Sutton Welsh, Wichita, and Serena Wong, North Newton.

Playing Scythians in Act I and Greeks in Act IV are Reece Hiebert, Walton, Nicholas Preheim, Peabody, Austin Regier, Newton, Matthew Rodenberg, Halstead, and Connick Roe, Kingman. Also playing Scythians are Steven Owen, Newton, Max Stucky Halley, Topeka, and William Eash.

Members of the Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts (BCAPA) Kaleidoscope Dancers will perform the “Blood Ballet” and play the Furies in Orestes’ dream sequence in Act II.

Stage manager is Julia Campfield, Wray, Colorado. Set design is by Ethan Koerner, Bethel adjunct instructor in theater and choreography by Danika Bielek, executive director of BCAPA.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2015–16 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2015–16. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.