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Dark Opera Lights Up Concert Hall at SFCM

The contemporary opera, 'Proving Up' allowed students a dramatic performance, while the Concert Hall's enhanced digital capabilities gave audiences an immersive experience.

March 20, 2024 by Mark Taylor

Little House on the Prairie meets The Shining. That's the visceral experience SFCM Opera delivered in its spectacular production of Proving Up. 

Written by Missy Mazzoli, the opera challenged performers to take audiences to the dark side of the American dream. "It showcases both its promise and its pitfalls. While some find success, many others, despite following all the rules, meet tragic ends," said voice student Shiddharth (Sid) Chand ('24) who portrayed Miles, the youngest of the doomed Zegner family, trying to make it as homesteaders in 1870s Nebraska. 

SFCM voice student Sid Chand.

Sid Chand as Miles in "Proving Up."

While the opera itself verged on horror, for students like Chand it was a joy to take on. For this production, guest director Elkhanah Pulitzer and guest conductor Steven Osgood worked with student musicians. "Elkhanah and Steven pushed us to not only give our best, but also have the courage to explore what it means to inhabit our characters," Chand said. "It's really an A-level team, and for this being my second role I've ever performed, I feel really, truly spoiled!" Chand is a student of César E. Ulloa.

SFCM cast of "Proving Up"

The cast of "Proving Up" performs in March.

Proving Up is Missy Mazzoli's third opera with librettist Royce Vavrek, an adaptation of Karen Russell's short story of the same title. "The Opera faculty has been wanting to program a contemporary opera by a female composer and Missy Mazzoil and Royce Vavrek's haunting masterpiece had been on the top of our list," Heather Mathews, chair of the Opera and Musical Theatre program, said.

SFCM cast of "Proving Up"

Lighting enhancements made for an immersive audience experience.

With sweeping imagery and immersive digital projections, this production also allowed SFCM to explore its new creative and emerging digital technical capabilities, "Our team came from not only all over the country but from Europe as well. Adam Larsen's video design, in combination with Seth Reiser's haunting lighting design and Afsoon Pajoufar's scenic design, created a completely immersive environment in which the piece could have maximum impact," Mathews continued. "The audience immediately rose to their feet at the end of both performances and spoke intensely about the visceral reaction to the piece. That was just what we were hoping for!"

Sid Chand in "Proving Up."

Sid Chand in "Proving Up."

For the family at the center of Proving Up, the window to success may not have been achieved, "Unfortunately, in this opera, the rite of passage is doomed from the start," Chand said. "Despite Miles' kindness and good intentions, he doesn't get his expected moment of triumph," 

But for the performers of Proving Up, they certainly did. 

Learn more about studying Opera and Musical Theatre at SFCM.