Vocal Studies professor Heather Hunnicutt, second from right, with her Georgetown College first place-winners from the recent National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) State Competition ‚Äď senior Ryland Pope of Harlan, right; freshman Elizabeth Levay of Maysville; and sophomore Chuck Harris of Lexington. Pope, who also took Best Singer/Artist Overall, and Harris are both in Hunnicutt‚Äôs cast of ‚ÄúThe Secret Marriage,‚ÄĚ likely the College‚Äôs first full-scale opera.
Senior Ryland Pope ‚ÄĒ a product of the famed Harlan Boys Choir ‚ÄĒ is one of the main reasons Georgetown College is producing a full-scale opera, ‚ÄúThe Secret Marriage,‚ÄĚ Dec. 4-5.
‚ÄúI realized we have this exceptional singer here‚Ä¶and I said Ryland‚Äôs not leaving Georgetown without an opera on his resume,‚ÄĚ said Heather Hunnicutt, the production‚Äôs stage director and the College‚Äôs Coordinator of Vocal Studies. Ryland and his fellow cast members are so professional, she said, that the Lyric Theatre Society has been selected to perform the opera at the 7th annual Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities ‚Äď and they‚Äôre scrambling to raise money for the January trip.
According to Hunnicutt, Ryland‚Äôs role ‚Äď Conte (Count) Robinson ‚Äď is very challenging, especially for an undergraduate student. ‚ÄúIt requires an excellent command of the Italian language, the voice and dramatacism.‚ÄĚ
My character can be considered the antagonist and I have really enjoyed playing the trouble-maker,‚ÄĚ Ryland said. ‚ÄúThis role has been very challenging for me because there is so much Italian to learn.‚ÄĚ
The audience needn‚Äôt worry. An English translation of the Italian lyrics will be projected onto a 40-foot wide screen above the stage. Hunnicutt, however, promised that patrons won‚Äôt need to look at the super titles to understand the opera. The performers understand the Italian words, and their facial expressions and exaggerated actions will convey the meaning, she explained.
‚ÄúI truly believe that people will forget that they are watching an opera and start thinking they are watching a great theatrical production,‚ÄĚ Ryland said of Hunnicutt‚Äôs production. ‚ÄúFrom the opening scene, ‚ÄėThe Secret Marriage‚Äô has a heart-warming and humorous feel‚Ä¶and there are hysterical moments through-out.‚ÄĚ
Professor Hunnicutt sees Ryland Pope as a leader who truly sets the tone for the team, which one would hope from the president of the College‚Äôs Lyric Theatre Society. ‚ÄúRyland is always the first one in the practice rooms in the morning, the last one to leave in the evenings, and every time I come in to work over the weekends, the halls are invariably filled with his voice,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúI believe that it is Ryland‚Äôs hard work and talent that has inspired the rest of the cast and production team to raise their game and truly create something magnificent!‚ÄĚ
Ryland‚Äôs star really took off earlier this fall in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) State Competition at Murray State University when he won Senior Classical and took Best Singer/Artist Overall. His repertoire requirements over the two days were tough, too ‚Äď four pieces for upperclassmen with a mix of foreign language and English pieces, operatic arias and art songs or musical theatre numbers from different time periods.
Ryland competed with pieces in English, Italian, Spanish and French. For the Finals, he sang “Se vuol ballare” from ‚ÄúLe nozze di Figaro‚ÄĚ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ‚Äď a piece that he first sang in the Georgetown College Opera and Musical Theatre Workshop in spring 2007. ‚ÄúBeing in a NATS has given me more chances to perform,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThe more chances you have to perform the better you get at performing and the better performer you become.‚ÄĚ
Ryland credits the Harlan Boys Choir ‚Äď and its directors David L. Davies and Marilyn J. Schraeder ‚Äď for pointing him toward a musical career. Named Most Outstanding Member his senior year at Harlan High (2005), he said he ‚Äúenjoyed every second‚ÄĚ from the fourth grade on. ‚ÄúMr. Davis would gather us together and give some of the most inspirational speeches I‚Äôve ever heard. He didn‚Äôt talk to us like we were boys, but as if we were men, men who were there for a common goal.‚ÄĚ
Being in the choir and traveling to major cities for choral singing competitions, he said, ‚Äúopened my eyes to the rest of the world.‚ÄĚ He fondly remembers touring the cities, dining in fine restaurants and sometimes catching a live show from a major theatre company.
He obviously had educational and arts influences in the home as well. His father, Thomas Pope, is a dean at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College; his mother, piano teacher Clara Atkins-Pope, owns the Studio of Piano and Fine Arts. He is also the grandson of Clara Atkins and the late Frank Atkins; and the late Roy and Maxine Pope.
Ryland‚Äôs ‚Äúguardian angel in music‚ÄĚ now, he said, is Professor Hunnicutt. ‚ÄúShe was the first person who told me (she) believed in me and that I could make it in the music business. She has made sure that I have had as many performing opportunities as I could possibly have, which helps a young performer grow.
‚ÄúShe has also made sure that I am always going in the right direction concerning career. This is one reason I am grateful to be at a smaller college like Georgetown, because students don‚Äôt always receive such good advice and personal attention at the big universities.‚ÄĚ
The university scene, however, is next on the Ryland Plan ‚Äď and pursuit of a Masters of music in Vocal Performance. He is in the process of applying to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Cincinnati Conservatory (CCM), University of Kentucky and Rice University. Said Hunnicutt, ‚ÄúI absolutely believe that Ryland is going to make it in our tough field. He is going to set the opera world on fire!‚ÄĚ
Another singer with Harlan ties in the opera‚Äôs ensemble cast is Chuck Harris (Geronimo), who moved to Lexington at age six, then graduated from Scott County High School two years ago. His father is Charles Harris, Jr., now of Georgetown. His grandfather, Charles Harris Sr., used to work in the maintenance department at Cawood High School; grandmother Reba Harris worked at Ages Headstart. Terry and Corina Ryan, his great-uncle and aunt, still live in Harlan.
Chuck, who won the Underclass Musical Theatre category of the recent state NATS competition, said he came into ‚ÄúThe Secret Marriage‚ÄĚ hating opera. ‚ÄúThey tried to make me an opera singer at UK and I didn’t like it at all,‚ÄĚ said the sophomore transfer. ‚ÄúBut, this production has opened my eyes to opera and I love it now.‚ÄĚ
According to Daniel Ng, the Student Musical Director: The opera‚Äôs plot is reminiscent of a 1950s episode of ‚ÄúI Love Lucy,‚ÄĚ if Lucille Ball was Italian and lived in the 18th century. Geronimo lives with his sister Fidalma and his two daughters, Elisetta and Carolina. When the opera begins, Carolina has fallen in love with Paolino, Geronimo‚Äôs clerk, and the two have married in secret. Carolina is in a higher class than Paolino, so Geronimo wouldn‚Äôt approve of their union. Paolino attempts to arrange a marriage between the older daughter, Elisetta, and a rich count, hoping that afterwards, he will get Geronimo‚Äôs blessing and can reveal the marriage. But when Count Robinson arrives, he decides he prefers Carolina. Ng said, ‚ÄúThis lively comedy is perfect for those who have never seen an opera before, or those who assume they wouldn‚Äôt enjoy opera.‚ÄĚ
The campus performances of ‚ÄúThe Secret Marriage‚ÄĚ by Domenica Cimarosa are at 7 p.m., Dec. 4-5 in the College‚Äôs John L. Hill Chapel on Giddings Circle. Tickets are $15 for adults, $4 for all students with ID, and free for children under-10 (who will get a special, student-designed ‚ÄúSecret Marriage‚ÄĚ coloring book). Tickets may be ordered by calling the College‚Äôs bookstore at (502) 863-8134.
If you would like to become involved with the Lyric Theatre Society of Georgetown College, call Dr. Heather Hunnicutt at (502) 863-8056. The group has been selected to perform ‚ÄúThe Secret Marriage‚ÄĚ in Honolulu for the 7th annual Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities in early January. They will also bring the opera to the Hawaii Baptist Academy, a long-time partner of the College. The public is also welcome April 9, back on campus, for the GC Opera & Musical Theatre Workshop Performance at 7 p.m. in Hill Chapel.
Crew & Cast of ‚ÄúThe Secret Marriage‚ÄĚ
- Producer/Stage Director: Heather Hunnicutt
- Musical Director: Daniel Ng of Georgetown
- Stage Manager: Shannon Brunk of Lexington
- Artistic Director: Hannah Davis of Lexington
- Lighting: Shawn McPeek of Shelbiana, KY
- Conte Robinson: Ryland Pope of Harland
- Carolina: Cate Kilgore of Bowling Green
- Paolino: Michael Cannon of Stamping Ground, KY
- Elisetta: Sable Floyd of Somerset
- Geronimo: Chuck Harris of Lexington
- Fidalma: Sarah Smith of Stamping Ground, KY
- Chamber Maid: Madeline Gannon of Mount Sterling, KY