The Eastman Opera Theatre started off its 2005-06 season with a bang – literally.

EOT hosted a production of “Claudia Legare” in Kilbourn Hall, from Nov. 3 to 6. Eastman alumnus Robert Ward ’39, who joined the cast for a bow after the performance, composed the opera.

The opera premiered in 1978 and has only been produced three times since. Ward has taken it upon himself to be personally involved with the EOT’s production.

Ward, who also composed the opera “The Crucible” and won a Pulitzer Prize for it, based “Claudia Legare” on the Henrik Ibsen play “Hedda Gabler.”

Set in post-Civil War South Carolina, the story focuses on the bitter life led by Claudia Legare, a “proper” southern belle, bored with the uniformity of her days.

She finds herself torn between her husband and ex-lover as they both try to contrive a plan for reconstructing the South.

In her own confusion, Claudia decides her fate as well as that of those around her by ending the tragic tale in gunshots and despair.

The eight-character production had an impressive cast, and I can only assume that each member of the alternate cast for the Thursday and Saturday shows was equally talented.

Everyone sang with power and grace – however, perhaps most astounding was graduate student Darla L. Mattern, who played Aunt Julia Lowndes.

Although she was only in two scenes, she was certainly the center of attention every time she appeared on stage, most notably in the opening scene of Act I.

Her incredibly strong and beautiful voice was an immediate preview of the talent that was to come not only from her, but also from the entire cast.

Despite the talented cast, it was difficult to pay attention to the other members when Mattern was singing.

Additionally, senior Anna Elder, who played Claudia, did an amazing job. Not only was she an exemplary singer, but a convincing actress as well.

Also featured was the Eastman Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra, conducted by EOT Music Director Benton Hess. The group is comprised mainly of violinists but also includes cellists, bassists, horn players, clarinetists and pianists.

The orchestra did an exceptional job delivering a quality presentation.

Aside from the talent of the individuals involved, the set of the stage was one of the most unbelievable aspects of the entire performance.

It certainly did not look like the Kilbourn Hall the audience was used to seeing. In fact, it would have looked like an entirely different venue if not for some of the unchanging furniture.

All those involved with the set production should certainly be proud. The full-length hanging mirrors, enormous doorways, fireplace, mounted painting, couch, tables, lanterns and every other detail added an element of reality to the opera, which made the production all the more enjoyable, that is if you can really call a tragedy “enjoyable.”

Despite the creativity and talent of those involved, I found it to be a very depressing way to spend a Friday night.

The tragic ending and the recurring misery throughout the show made it very saddening to sit through.

There is no doubt, though, that everyone from the composer to the conductor put his best into the opera, making it an incredible performance, but dismal nonetheless. Perhaps that’s the nature of opera, but whatever the case may be, Eastman Opera Theatre knows how to put on a fantastic show.

DeRose can be reached at

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