Ravel Production Sends SFCM Opera Grads Off on A High Note

Nina Jones and Stella Hannock

Nina Jones and Stella Hannock.

The fanciful final season production immersed the cast of over 30 students in an imaginary world of fast-paced vignettes taking place in one act.

By Alex Heigl

Stella Hannock's final semester at SFCM was an especially busy one, though for a very good reason: She was pulling double-duty at the San Francisco Opera.

For her role as the lead in Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges, Hannock explained, "It meant a lot of compromises on my part and also on the part of Heather [Mathews] and Curt [Pajer], who were so accommodating. Every Wednesday rehearsal I arrived two hours late because both rehearsals started at three, so I would finish at the Opera at five, get out of the rehearsal room and sprint over."

Stella Hannock.

"I really didn't expect it at all," Hannock added of her job win. "I was just so busy in the audition season, and I didn't think I got it, but I found out just after the fall semester finished in December."

A number of factors make L'enfant a challenging role for the leads, Hannock and Nina Jones, who got a relatively rare opportunity as mezzo-sopranos to play the titular role. The main character's age—12 years old—meant that Hannock and Jones had to embody a pre-teen's hyperactive physicality (and be onstage for the entire performance) and the large, 30-plus-strong cast and vignette-style fantastical narrative made for unique challenges for staging. As a result, the piece is infrequently staged. 

"I'm a lyric mezzo, so I do mostly Mozart, like light, higher-mezzo stuff," Jones said. "So I'm very used to playing pants rolls, like the little boy roles. That's why I came to SFCM, to study with Susanne Mentzer, who was really a hugely influential figure in the evolution of the trouser role."

"As a non-binary person, it's great to be able to explore those roles and see what I'm more comfortable as," they added. "I love playing a little boy. When I did The Enchanted Pig last year, they put me in this long brunette wig and this poofy dress and the last time I wore a dress was like 10 years ago."

"But it is really fun," Jones continued, "just being able to get that satisfaction of playing a boy or girl onstage and being able to explore and experiment in a safe environment."

For both leads, their last performance at SFCM was, to put it mildly, an emotional one: Hannock's parents came in to see her performance from Australia, and between her SFO work, L'enfant, and their visit, she said her graduation "barely feels real at this point." 

"The other morning was the first time I've just been totally alone since L'enfant, and for a second, I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm not a student anymore. It's happening. Because this has been my life for the last seven years."

Megan Mateosky and Nina Jones.

"It was very bittersweet," Jones said of their performance. "I was really lucky because my cast members were all of my closest friends. And one, Megan Mateosky, was playing my mom, so at the very end of the opera we got to hug and I was just sobbing, because that's the last moment of our degree."

"I've always had a job since I was 13 years old," Hannock reflected, "and they've generally been outside of the world of classical music. A lot of my colleagues say that opera is a crazy field to work in. And it is, but I just feel so free."
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