SMU opera presents: ‘A Happy Bernstein Birthday’

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SMU Meadows Opera Theatre hosted the last part of its Opera Free For All series on Friday in the Bob Hope lobby in dedication to Leonard Bernstein’s upcoming 100th birthday in August.

The opera class holds performances throughout the year including a series called Opera Free For All, which is hosted twice a semester and features various themes. In celebration of the influential composer Leonard Bernstein, this last event featured 11 different scores that were composed by Bernstein.

Opera theatre director Hank Hammett shared the large admiration the department has for Bernstein.

“Leonard Bernstein is one of the greatest composers that has ever lived and he was the first person to sort of publicly bring people on a national level into the concert hall,” Hammett said. “He was also just an incredible humanitarian, a real powerful voice for political change and social causes. He’s somebody that represents everything we’re all about here at Meadows, and so we just wanted to celebrate him today.”

The event featured SMU opera students including Shelbi Herndon, a second year in the master’s program who admires Bernstein’s innovative work.

“Bernstein is an amazing conductor and a trailblazer for choral music and operetta because he really merged the two genres,” Herndon said. “It’s not really musical theatre and it’s not really opera, it’s a really special genre in between and it was so much fun. I loved getting to be a part of it.”

Among over 100 attendees, SMU freshman Austin Zhuang appreciated not only the Bernstein selections, but also the talent of the opera students, whose hard work did not go unnoticed.

“I enjoyed the scenes that they had from different plays and Broadway shows and they did a really good job despite the tight schedule at the end of the year with so many rehearsals and so many things,” Zhuang said. “I appreciate and really admire and value the time that they’ve put into doing this.”

Zhuang then paused for a moment to collect his thoughts on the performance.

“I’m astounded and just completely out of words, to be honest,” Zhuang said.

Director Hank Hammett appreciated the hard work and dedication to their characters that the opera students displayed in preparation for this performance.

“It’s always just working with the students that I enjoy most,” Hammett said. “They’re just amazing and I can’t really say enough about that. They are wonderfully talented, but they’re also just wonderful colleagues to each other and promote kindness and cooperation. It just makes it a complete joy.”

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