hunnitt and opera students

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 – 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’s cast of “The Secret Marriage,” likely the College’s first full-scale opera.

Senior Ryland Pope — a product of the famed Harlan Boys Choir — is one of the main reasons Georgetown College is producing a full-scale opera, “The Secret Marriage,” Dec. 4-5.

“I realized we have this exceptional singer here…and I said Ryland’s not leaving Georgetown without an opera on his resume,” said Heather Hunnicutt, the production’s stage director and the College’s 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 – and they’re scrambling to raise money for the January trip.

According to Hunnicutt, Ryland’s role – Conte (Count) Robinson – is very challenging, especially for an undergraduate student. “It requires an excellent command of the Italian language, the voice and dramatacism.”

My character can be considered the antagonist and I have really enjoyed playing the trouble-maker,” Ryland said. “This role has been very challenging for me because there is so much Italian to learn.”

The audience needn’t 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’t 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.

“I truly believe that people will forget that they are watching an opera and start thinking they are watching a great theatrical production,” Ryland said of Hunnicutt’s production. “From the opening scene, ‘The Secret Marriage’ has a heart-warming and humorous feel…and there are hysterical moments through-out.”

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’s Lyric Theatre Society. “Ryland 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,” she said. “I believe that it is Ryland’s hard work and talent that has inspired the rest of the cast and production team to raise their game and truly create something magnificent!”

Ryland’s 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 – 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 “Le nozze di Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – a piece that he first sang in the Georgetown College Opera and Musical Theatre Workshop in spring 2007. “Being in a NATS has given me more chances to perform,” he said. “The more chances you have to perform the better you get at performing and the better performer you become.”

Ryland credits the Harlan Boys Choir – and its directors David L. Davies and Marilyn J. Schraeder – for pointing him toward a musical career. Named Most Outstanding Member his senior year at Harlan High (2005), he said he “enjoyed every second” from the fourth grade on. “Mr. Davis would gather us together and give some of the most inspirational speeches I’ve ever heard. He didn’t talk to us like we were boys, but as if we were men, men who were there for a common goal.”

Being in the choir and traveling to major cities for choral singing competitions, he said, “opened my eyes to the rest of the world.” 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’s “guardian angel in music” now, he said, is Professor Hunnicutt. “She 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.

“She 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’t always receive such good advice and personal attention at the big universities.”

The university scene, however, is next on the Ryland Plan – 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, “I absolutely believe that Ryland is going to make it in our tough field. He is going to set the opera world on fire!”

Another singer with Harlan ties in the opera’s 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 “The Secret Marriage” hating opera. “They tried to make me an opera singer at UK and I didn’t like it at all,” said the sophomore transfer. “But, this production has opened my eyes to opera and I love it now.”

According to Daniel Ng, the Student Musical Director: The opera’s plot is reminiscent of a 1950s episode of “I Love Lucy,” 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’s clerk, and the two have married in secret. Carolina is in a higher class than Paolino, so Geronimo wouldn’t 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’s blessing and can reveal the marriage. But when Count Robinson arrives, he decides he prefers Carolina. Ng said, “This lively comedy is perfect for those who have never seen an opera before, or those who assume they wouldn’t enjoy opera.”

The campus performances of “The Secret Marriage” by Domenica Cimarosa are at 7 p.m., Dec. 4-5 in the College’s 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 “Secret Marriage” coloring book). Tickets may be ordered by calling the College’s 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 “The Secret Marriage” 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 “The Secret Marriage”

  • The Secret Marraige PosterProducer/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